Introduction by the
Deputy Vice-Chancellor

UCT’s research is gaining ever greater international recognition and our researchers are demonstrating that Africa can be a leader in solving any of the world’s central questions, while contributing meaningfully to the important debates of our time.

Our international standing as a leading research institution was again demonstrated by our placement in the three main global university ranking systems last year. Elsevier’s SciVal Spotlight, a research analysis tool, also indicates that we are currently among the world leaders in many of the areas in which we have achieved research excellence.

In line with UCT’s strategy to enhance its position as an Afropolitan university, the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund awarded the Research Office funding to support research collaboration with partners in Africa or elsewhere in the global South. In addition, the overall plan to boost UCT’s research included identifying strong existing international research links and giving targeted central assistance to those linkages that can most benefit from such an intervention. Thus, during 2011, directed action was taken to strengthen existing research ties between, respectively, the Department of Oceanography and the Universities of Bretagne Occidentale (Brest) and Montpellier, and the Department of Chemical Engineering and the University of Singapore.

The transformation of the research cohort remains a toplevel concern for UCT. We realise the health of academia in the future depends on ensuring that the best talent of our country, at the very least, should consider taking up a position in a university and to this end we have set up several initiatives aimed at emerging and mid-career researchers.

Support is, of course, not limited to new and midcareer academics. The Research Office, the Office for Research Contracts and Intellectual Property Services, and the Research Finance section of the Finance Department support UCT staff in many of the tasks that are central to their overall research effort. This includes: (i) support and training in preparing proposals for funding from organisations such as the European Union’s FP7 Programme, the National Institutes of Health and other major funders of international research, (ii) individualised support in applying for NRF rating and funding, (iii) advice and support in managing research grants, (iv) advice and support in protecting IP efficiently, as well as support in taking the IP to the market, and (v) advice and support in entering into research contracts. It is necessary to draw specific attention to these services, since without this behind-the-scenes support, UCT’s research would not have the range and impact that it currently enjoys.

The university’s strategy in terms of size and shape commits it to significant growth in the postgraduate sector. To this end, Professor Hugh Corder was appointed to investigate the feasibility of appointing a Director of Postgraduate Studies. His report recommended that the post be created and this was accepted by the university’s structures. It has become clear that this position will play a central role in realising UCT’s ambitions in respect of postgraduate growth. The strengthening of all aspects of postgraduate studies is an important aspect for the year ahead.

In the modern university, support for innovation at all levels is a must. In 2011, the Office for Research Contracts and IP Services has continued to build an active and mutually supportive inventor and entrepreneurial community at UCT. It has worked closely with the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO), as the latter found its feet last year. Highlights of 2011 were: UCT had the highest annual number of spin-off companies and invention disclosures ever, a new IP policy was approved, an ‘evergreen fund’ campaign was launched to support innovation, and strong progress was made by the Innovation Working Group towards drafting a full innovation policy and launching an Innovation Forum.

UCT has long recognised that the frontiers of knowledge are often best extended by combining the insights of several traditional disciplines – as is evidenced by the University’s Signature Themes (all of which are aimed at promoting inter- and transdisciplinary research) and also by its support of many other inter- and transdisciplinary ventures. It is, however, clear that here, as elsewhere in the world, the recognition of the value of this approach does not mean that it is easy to realise it. The University Research Committee (URC) therefore resolved to devote the 2011 Research Indaba to a debate (against the backdrop of specific case studies) on the meaning, value and enablement of inter- and transdisciplinary research. The Indaba made it possible to do detailed planning in regard to the support of inter- and transdisciplinarity at UCT during the course of 2012 and a number of projects will be rolled out to improve awareness of the possibilities for this kind of research in the university, and also to remove the real and perceived obstacles.

I congratulate our researchers on their performance over the last year. We produced the highest number of research outputs in the country in 2010, as measured by the Department of Higher Education and Training for subsidy purposes – 1 253.03 units (each year’s figures are always for the performance of two years ago). An important proxy (although, of course, not the only one) for the quality of our research is the number of researchers who are rated by the National Research Foundation. There were 379 NRFrated researchers at UCT in 2011, the largest number of any university. It was particularly encouraging that more than half of the new ratings in 2011 went to younger researchers.

As we move forward to face the challenges of the next year, we are grateful for the continued engagement with, and support from, the research community in building on the achievements of 2011.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor