“When I tell people what we are doing they ask ‘is that UWC? Are you serious?’,” he says. “We don’t brag enough about what we are doing. I serve on the University’s review panel for funding and rating for the National Research Foundation (NRF), and every year we have to tell academics that they need to say more about what they are doing. If you are doing great work that has an impact, you should talk about it. It’s a culture that we need to change. When other universities do good things they take it out there.”
Prof Fielding was appointed to the position this year to replace Prof Thandi Mgwebi, who resigned late last year to take up the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships, Research and Innovation at Tshwane University of Technology.
Prof Fielding served as the acting Research Director for seven months in 2014 and was also acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation for seven months in 2016/2017.
He has been in discussion with the deputy deans around strategies to showcase UWC’s research. Prof Fielding frankly concedes that along with the excellent research, there is also a level of inactivity among some academics. “If you look at the number and quality of publications it is good but it is not close to where it should be,” he says.
Prof Fielding says the Department of Higher Education and Training and the NRF have challenged universities to produce 5 000 PhDs per year until 2030, and the urgency was emphasised at a recent NRF workshop which confirmed that the majority of publications are produced by PhD holders who are white males close to retirement.
“The majority of publications in South Africa come from that cohort,” says Prof Fielding. “If they leave we will not only have a vacuum in knowledge but also in outputs. What are we doing to fix that?. We need to identify and train PhDs who will be able to step up and produce the next generation of PhDs as well as continue generating publications.”
Prof Fielding was born in Elsies River and grew up in Mitchell’s Plain and Belhar on the Cape Flats. After matriculating at Symphony High, he completed his BSc and all his postgraduate studies at UWC. A molecular biologist, he has worked as a Research Fellow at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore. He also serves on the editorial boards and acts as a reviewer of fourteen international journals and serves as a scientific reviewer for six national and international funding bodies.