Toward becoming a postgraduate and Research-intensive universityDate Released: Tue, 7 August 2012 10:59 +0200
“It is our intention to focus on growing the proportion of our postgraduate students from 27% to 30% in the coming years. The Sandisa Imbewu Fund supports this intention.” - Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University, Dr Saleem Badat
Judged in terms of key performance indicators, Rhodes University is one of South Africa and Africa’s outstanding universities with a proud reputation as a ‘Scholarly University’.
Advancing the frontiers of knowledge to change society for the better, Rhodes provides a quality education to students from diverse social, economic and national backgrounds. The University produces the best undergraduate pass rates, outstanding graduation rates, and ranks amongst the highest per capita research outputs and percentage of staff with doctorates of all South African universities.
Having said this, Rhodes is keenly aware that it operates in an increasingly competitive environment, especially in terms of certain other South African universities, which, like Rhodes, are known as ‘research universities’. Rising to this challenge, Rhodes is proactively pursuing its objective to become a postgraduate and research-intensive university.
It is an ambitious objective but it is well within reach when we consider the growth of postgraduate students at Rhodes: from 1 840 (26%) postgraduate students in 2010 (audited figures) to the University’s 2012 postgraduate target of 29% (2 204 students). Rhodes aims to achieve its 30% (2 273 students) in 2013.
Positive postgraduate growth was reflected in the number of students who completed their degrees in 2011. Out of a total number of 2 240 students who graduated from Rhodes during this period, 907 or 40% received postgraduate degrees. In 2011 Rhodes also achieved a new University record of 55 PhDs – an impressive achievement for the smallest university in South Africa.
Positive postgraduate growth is further reflected in the outputs at Rhodes. In 2010, the total subsidy earning accredited research output count for Rhodes University of 615.3 units represents an increase of 9% on the previous year. By far the major contributor to this growth was the significant increase in both PhD (37.5% up on 2009) and Masters by thesis students (34.5% up on 2009).
Rhodes has the highest percentage of all South African universities with regard to PhD students as a percentage of Masters students. This suggests two trends: firstly, that Rhodes attracts a significant number of PhD students from outside the University, and, secondly, that a significant number of Rhodes’ Masters students continue to do PhDs. Sandisa Imbewu will boost this trend, in addition to enrolling a healthy number of Honours students with the intention of growing the percentage of Honours students that stay on to become Masters and PhD students at the University.
Postgraduates play an extremely important role at Rhodes and contribute in many areas: from undergraduate student development to supporting academic programmes and providing valuable support to our leading scholars and researchers; assisting them in their research and going on to become their collaborators. Postgraduates are also potentially apprentice academics; from their ranks new generations of scholars and researchers will rise.
Intrinsic to this growth trajectory is Rhodes’ recognition of its responsibility and need to contribute to social transformation in South Africa and the continent by championing community engagement and service-learning as well as research and collaborative partnerships that benefit the community at large.
Ultimately, the quest to become ‘more postgraduate’ is located in the key social purposes of the University.
One of these key social purposes is the production of knowledge to advance our understanding of our natural and social worlds and enrich our accumulated scientific and cultural heritage. This includes testing the inherited knowledge of earlier generations, dismantling the mumbo jumbo that masquerades for knowledge, reinvigorating knowledge and sharing discoveries, findings, innovations and new applications with others for the benefit of all.
Rhodes’ slogan ‘Where Leaders Learn’ is central to this ethos. It is important to the University that graduates should have a broad knowledge of other cultures and a keen appreciation of how we gain knowledge and understanding of the universe, of society, and of ourselves, in order to think systematically about the moral, ethical and environmental problems of our time.
Many areas of our society and economy today require graduates with higher levels of knowledge and professional expertise than the undergraduate degree. Rhodes is responding to this requirement and meeting the challenge of ensuring that we create and transform the social composition of the next generation of scholars and researchers.
From the angle of employment equity and the current social composition of our academic labour force, we have a serious and immediate ‘crisis’. The roots of this crisis are well known. From the age profile of our academic labour force to the remuneration of academics, the pull of the public (government, public enterprises and science councils) and private sectors that offer considerably better remuneration, competition from other knowledge producing institutions, and the emigration of scholars to other parts of the world, the crisis is grave.
Demographically, Rhodes’ postgraduate student population is healthy. An average of 52% of the University’s postgraduates are women; 53% are black and 29% are international students from over 36 countries; the majority from countries in Africa. This complements the University’s intention to help address the academic labour force crisis and become a key, cosmopolitan hub in Africa for research and postgraduate development that produces globally recognised academics outputs from Africa.
Rhodes’ goal, in a nutshell, is to enhance the quantity, the quality and the equity profile of postgraduates in coming years. We must seek to:
– Maintain the positive features of postgraduate study that we enjoy with our current postgraduate numbers;
– Effectively educate and supervise additional numbers of postgraduates in future years;
– Purposefully and creatively further enhance the quality of the postgraduate experience at Rhodes University.
It goes without saying that the development of further postgraduate studies and research programmes at Rhodes requires additional financial resources.
Funding will be sought from the University’s own internal funds through the annual budget process; from earmarked and competitive funds provided by different state departments (principally, though not exclusively, the Departments of Science & Technology and Higher Education & Training), state agencies (National Research Foundation and science councils), philanthropic foundations (Mellon, Ford, Carnegie, Kresge, etc.), corporate donors and alumni.
There are also positive funding signals from other state departments. After considerable prevarication as well as inadequate resources for postgraduate education (including facilities, equipment and scholarships) the importance of postgraduate education and research and the need for greater funding appears to be more fully appreciated by our government.
Hopefully this will translate into direct assistance in future years, but in the meantime we must assist ourselves. This year and in coming years, we will need to give attention to identifying, funding and potentially introducing new postgraduate and research niche areas and programmes with a focus on inter-disciplinary research.
The projects selected for the Sandisa Imbewu Fund this year will encourage collaboration and co-operation across departments and faculties around postgraduate education and training, leading to invaluable partnerships.
Sandisa Imbewu is one of several new initiatives at Rhodes aimed at elevating its postgraduate status. Other initiatives include:
Four new Masters programmes - in Creative Writing, Social Policy, Bioinformatics and Applied Computer Science – that were initiated last year, as well as a new Honours specialisation in Health Journalism in partnership with Discovery Health. There has also been the continued expansion of the new Doctoral programme in Higher Education Studies that was initiated by CHERTL last year. There are currently 31 doctoral students registered, a vindication of the decision of the University to award CHERTL a full time academic post of Doctoral Programme Coordinator.
To date, Rhodes has won ten prestigious South African Research Chairs – existing chairs in Medicinal Chemistry, Marine Ecosystems and Astro-Physics, and two in Mathematics Education, and new chairs in Intellectualisation of African Languages, Insects in Sustainable Agricultural Ecosystems, Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use, Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, and Marine Natural Products Research. The University will continue to energetically pursue further chairs in proven areas of academic excellence.
Also on Rhodes’ priority list is to bid for and host a UNESCO Institute for Water Education and Research. This field already enjoys prominence in teaching, research and community engagement activities across numerous disciplines and three dedicated research centres at Rhodes.
Another priority is a new Life Sciences building, to ensure that these disciplines continue to thrive, and to create space for other highly productive departments to grow. The achievements of colleagues in Chemistry, Zoology and Entomology, Ichthyology and Fisheries, and Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology are deservedly celebrated as the most research productive departments at Rhodes University and the producers of large numbers of postgraduates.
To equip its students with the best possible research access, Rhodes has spent R75-million on a spectacular new Library with state of the art facilities. Librarians are being trained locally and in the United States as dedicated research librarians through the support of the Carnegie Corporation. Included in the Library is a Research Commons dedicated exclusively to Masters and Doctoral students and academics. Here, scholars have access to extensive digital research databases to draw on current knowledge and create new knowledge.
Other developments, such as additional postgraduate and research programmes and new postgraduate residences, are planned to follow, in line with the University’s strategy to build on its solid postgraduate foundations.
To achieve this the University has become increasingly reliant on research funding in recent years as a larger proportion of its budget, and we express our heartfelt thanks to our funders and collaborators.
We extend our congratulations to the successful Sandiswa Imbewu projects and we look forward to the fruits of this round of seed funding which, we are confident, will notably add to the distinctive intellectual space that is Rhodes.
Picture by Sophie Smith