Quality Assessment of Research
Grant Proposals and Reports
In terms of research grant proposals, reports, etc a thorough knowledge and understanding of the funder’s requirements and objectives gained through networking with them is essential for the preparation of high quality proposals and reports. Acquiring this knowledge is one of the primary functions of the Director of Research and his assistant, as is the rigorous checking of such submissions in terms of general presentation and for scientific and other content. Input from peers within the university or in the case of rating applications from outside is sometimes sought to assist with this process.
Assessing Research Outputs
Research outputs in the form of journal articles, books, artifacts, etc are assessed in terms of their appropriateness and impact while conference presentations are assessed in relation to significance of the conference, the nature of the presentation and its outcomes. The quality of research carried out by an individual or group is in turn viewed in the context of the above factors in addition to their peer standing (eg NRF rating, National and International standing and external assessments and recommendations) and the number, graduation rates and quality and employment profile of their postgraduates. These outputs also are assessed in the relation to the expected norms in a particular discipline. While this has proved to be a very successful means of quality assessment for most disciplines it is not necessarily so for others such as the performing and visual arts. Based on the above criteria, which are similar to internationally accepted criteria of assessing research quality, the majority of Rhodes academic departments and research institutes are highly regarded for the quality and profile of their research.
The collection, collation and checking of subsidy earning research outputs is one of the most important tasks performed by the Research Office (particularly the Deans assistant) since this is now the basis for much of the subsidy earned for research. It is an extremely time-consuming task because of the need for close collaboration with departments to ensure full and accurate publication returns and the conditions imposed by the Department of Education in terms of the acceptability of returns, particularly of books and monographs, for consideration for subsidy purposes.
One of the problems which has recently arisen in assessing the impact of research particularly in the sciences has been a shift towards more contract rather than grant driven research with the outputs frequently being in the form of reports sometimes of a confidential nature. One means that is used to assess the quality of this research is a direct interaction between the Director of Research and the funder to ascertain their satisfaction with the research carried out and its impact. In cases where significant amounts of contract research is carried out, a regular assessment is made on the impact of this on the more traditional forms of research publication and on the quality and progress of postgraduate students working on these contracts.
Role of the Joint Research Committee
The JRC is a joint committee of Senate and Council, chaired by the DVC: R&D, on which both bodies are represented as are all Faculties, the Finance Division and postgraduate students. Its function is to advise and assist the DVC: R&D in evaluating applications and budgets for University research grants, in assessing quality of research and in developing research strategies.
Assessing Postgraduate Supervision
The quality of postgraduate supervision is partly informed by the University Supervision Policy which requires the supervisor and student to complete an annual assessment form detailing the supervisory process, student progress and areas of concern and/or satisfaction from both perspectives. This policy was introduced in 2001 to address problems of supervision which arose from time to time. The number of research students supervised by any individual is also monitored and external examiners reports on theses are carefully read by both the Faculty Dean and DVC: R&D (and Vice-Chancellor in the case of PhDs) and any problems relating to quality are noted and discussed with the supervisor if necessary. In addition, the Faculty Deans and DVC: R&D are available to provide guidance to staff and students on any issue relating to supervision. Supervisor and student responsibilities relating to supervision are detailed in the Higher Degrees Guide and are regularly updated based on feedback received from staff and research students. While these systems of quality assurance of supervision are undoubtedly effective, postgraduate supervision often involves a very personal relationship between supervisor and student which should not be too rigorously interfered with but which can go wrong. When this does happen the above systems are proving to be effective at early identification of the problem and rectifying it. The policy of annual reporting has also allowed the Deans to more effectively assess throughput rates of postgraduate students, an issue which will be discussed in the Research Degree section.
Thesis Examination and Publication
A comprehensive guideline on the style, format and length of theses is provided in the Higher Degree Guide in addition to that available from supervisors and departments. For full Master's theses 2 external examiners are appointed neither of whom may be the supervisor and both of whom should be external. Three examiners with the same provisos are appointed for PhD theses. Nomination of examiners is made by the supervisor and is approved by Faculty in the case of Master's theses and by Faculty and Senate for PhDs. An additional condition is that at least one examiner in the case of a Master's and 2 in the case of a PhD must be an academic or be in an academic research institute with a track record of supervision. Clear procedures for collating and dealing with examiners reports are contained in the Higher Degrees Guide. The award of Master's degrees are made by the Dean and Faculty and PhD degrees by the Vice-Chancellor and Senate on a recommendation by the Dean and Committee of Assessors.
Candidates are encouraged to submit electronic versions of their corrected theses in PDF format for deposit in the open access Rhodes eResearch Repository (ReRR). An embargo period of between 1 and 5 years before deposit in the ReRR for confidentiality purposes may be stipulated. The university encourages the publication of thesis data in referred journal or book form and through the Director of Research provides support including limited financial support for such publication if required.
Database of Graduates
The university regards the tracking of careers of all its students but particularly those with higher degrees as very important both from a contact perspective but also the career path of these graduates is a very good indicator of the success of postgraduate programmes and their quality. This is done at present through an Alumni database maintained by the Marketing and Development Division, through ad hoc Counselling and Career Centre surveys, by the Research Office as a requirement of certain scholarship schemes but mainly by personal and departmental correspondence and contact.