The DVC: R&D and the Research Office identify sources and opportunities for research projects and funding through the use of national and international databases and frequent interaction with funding bodies such as national research councils, other government agencies, industries and commerce. Such information is specifically targeted for or directed to relevant departments, institutes or individuals. Opportunities for research projects and funding for black and female staff are also targeted for programmes such as the NRF Thuthuka programme on which 4 black and female staff are currently funded. Limited resources and competing needs does, however, restrict these initiatives to a certain extent since many of these programmes require matching contributions from the institution.
The university provides research funding through grants administered through a Research Committee (RC). The priority for the allocation of these funds is new and young staff with the remaining funds allocated to established staff on a need basis but more importantly based on their record of research outputs. While there is an emphasis on research productivity such as subsidized journals articles, books and postgraduate student supervision, all forms of research outputs including performances, exhibitions, reports, etc are taken into account in this evaluation. Established staff with a poor record of research outputs are not supported. Progress reports on university funded research are also used to evaluate subsequent applications.
The RC has adopted a policy of funding all appropriate research and not just that which falls within identified niche areas. This has been a major factor in stimulating research in the Humanities and Social Sciences in particular and is partly the reason for the high standing of research in these disciplines at Rhodes. Traditional areas of research strength are also supported from time to time internally through other more ad hoc mechanisms. These areas include amongst others biotechnology, communication technology, astronomy and medicinal chemistry in the Sciences and sociology, politics, philosophy and anthropology in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Interdisciplinary strengths lie in the fields of water and environmental research.
Subsequent to sourcing research opportunities and funding, the Research Office interacts extensively with staff to assist with the preparation of grant, contract and project applications. The development of a thorough knowledge and understanding of the funder’s needs, preferences and different processes for submitting applications is essential in providing this service. Before submission applications are rigorously checked for style, format, content and budget by the Director of Research, his assistant and Assistant Accountant for Research. A similar process is followed for NRF rating applications and for the preparation of reports. All applications for projects involving animal or human subjects are referred to the University’s ethics committee for advice and approval.
Grants and contracts awarded to staff are very strictly managed in terms of finances and deliverables. The research section of the Finance Division together with the Research Office ensures that expenditure and deliverables are adhered to in terms of the proposals and/or formal contracts and agreements. Financial and other reporting is done in accordance with the funder’s requirements. Financial control of grants is one of the most respected aspects of Rhodes University’s administration of research projects with many funders specifically requesting Rhodes management of consortium projects.
In order to maintain the effective financial and general administration of research grants the University last year introduced an administrative fee of 10% on all research funding. This is utilized partly to employ staff to administer the grants and a proportion is allocated to the RC to support research activities still to be determined.
The involvement of staff in innovative and entrepreneurial research activities is actively encouraged by an Intellectual Property (IP) policy in which IP and copyright resides with the academic staff member and not the University. Support is also provided in exploiting entrepreneurial ideas through a Centre for Entrepreneurship and Business Unit which have been recently have established partly to address a need to assist researchers with the exploitation of their novel ideas and findings. In selected cases the University has provided seed funding and/or partnerships to exploit commercialization of these ideas. To date 3 spin-out companies, 6 entrepreneurial research units and 7 individual closed corporations have been established from this activity and a number of individual closed corporations established. This and generous conditions allowing for individual consultancy and contract work has also enabled the university to retain many key staff, particularly in market related discipline.
The University recognizes the need to attend and present papers at conferences and for travel related to academic leave and other research activities and is proactive in supporting this travel. In the case of conference travel, all academic and research staff can apply to the RC for funding to present papers at one local and one international conference a year. Young and new staff receive the maximum grant available at the time and for established researchers funding, particularly for international conferences and academic leave, is awarded on the basis of their record of research productivity. The University’s commitment to supporting this aspect of research activity is demonstrated by a more than 3 fold increase in the RC travel budget in the past 5 years.
Rhodes University has a good infrastructure to support research. The library has very extensive electronic resources although, like many libraries worldwide, its holdings of hard copy journals and books are more limited. IT support in terms of provision of computers and access to the internet and email is as good as any institution in the country. Building infrastructure, laboratories and specialized facilities are mostly modern and extensive. However, in certain departments and fields of research the infrastructure to support research activities is limited and does restrict the size of the postgraduate intake.
Equipment for research is provided through individual research grants and contracts in addition to an annual University equipment grant which is competitive on a departmental basis. In 1999 a system was introduced to allow certain departments on request to receive a significant equipment grant to acquire major items of equipment on the understanding that those departments do not receive further equipment grants over the following 4 year period. Ad hoc infrastructural support is provided in cases of need to develop new research areas and to assist new as well as productive groups.
During a staff orientation programme the Director of Research informs mainly new staff about research issues and functions of the Research Office which is followed up with more detailed sessions with individuals on request. Workshops in conjunction with other departments or outside facilitators are conducted on supervision, funding, entrepreneurship, intellectual property and other related topics. Funding organizations are also regularly invited to make presentations to staff. Such workshops and presentations are often targeted at younger, inexperienced staff. The DVC: R&D is regularly invited to make presentations or be involved in discussion sessions in academic departments and specific research groups on subjects of their choice. Two years ago a process of regular departmental visits was initiated to make staff aware of developments in research and to provide an opportunity for informal discussions. The Higher Degrees Guide provides staff with an extensive guide on aspects of postgraduate supervision and other research student matters. This guide is revised on an annual basis by the DVC: R&D in consultation with Faculty Deans.
Senior staff are encouraged to mentor more junior staff mainly within their own disciplines, an informal mentorship which is very successful. A number of retired senior professors also fulfil this role very successfully. The Mellon staff programme for accelerated development has a formal mentorship requirement and when necessary the DVC: R&D meets with the staff member and their mentor to assess their research development. All staff who do not have higher degrees are encouraged to further their studies and are provided with support to do so in the form of bursaries to pay fees, academic leave, an award and promotion opportunities on completion of the qualification and through other forms of ad hoc assistance. Visits by senior researchers from other institutions are encouraged and financially supported where possible. Important awards that encourage staff development are the prestigious Vice-Chancellors Distinguished Research (under 40) and Senior Research Awards. International standing and peer evaluation are the criteria used in making these awards and the prominence they receive at graduation ceremonies gives them a very high profile. A Vice-Chancellors book award was initiated in 2002 to recognize research outputs in book form. This is again a highly valued award particularly since book outputs are poorly rewarded in terms of subsidy earned for this form of research output.
The Research Office and DVC: R&D operate an open door policy in terms of assistance, guidance or advice on all research matters as well as other more general academic and personal issues such as career options, supervision, etc. In this regard the Research Office is one of the most utilized administrative offices by academic staff.