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THE UNISA INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH PLAN

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THE UNISA INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH PLAN
1. Putting Research at the Service of Humanity

The University of South Africa (UNISA) is a comprehensive open and distance learning
(ODL) institution. Through its research, UNISA strives to attain its vision of being the
African university in the service of humanity. The unique nature of this service derives from a
strong commitment to basic, strategic and applied research1, in keeping with the university’s
identity both as a comprehensive institution and as a leader in certain niche research areas. In
accepting its research mandate, UNISA is mindful of the fact that it is ‘located and rooted in
the African context, developing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary for the
development of the continent’ and yet resolute in pursuing a vision of ‘critical scholarship
from an African perspective (as)… An authentic part of the global knowledge enterprise’2. In
order to mainstream research, build research capacity, improve quality and raise productivity
levels, UNISA
    a) has the requisite number of enabling and regulatory policies,
    b) has put into place structures fit for the purpose of research enablement,
    c) has constructed a long-term strategic plan in which research is integral, and
    d) is committed to the generation and liberation of resources for research.

Organised into five colleges, discipline areas in which UNISA has a high level research
competency are: Science, Engineering and Technology (excluding Medicine), Agriculture and
Environmental Sciences, Economics and Management Sciences, Human Sciences and Law.

2. Structures, Resources and Processes
Cognisant of its own particular insertion in the transforming higher education landscape,
based on its own potential and strengths, UNISA is committed to partnering the government,
NGO’s, research institutions, institutions responsible for the development and dissemination
of information, other relevant institutions and the people of South Africa in the pursuit of
research that is relevant and responsive to national developmental needs, and fosters the ideas
of innovation, and the application of research. Various structures support research at UNISA.
They include:
    1) Strategic Leadership Structures: Within UNISA, the research function resorts in the
       Academic and Research Portfolio, headed by a Vice-Principal and falling under the
       overall oversight of the Pro Vice-Chancellor. Within this portfolio is to be found a
       central Research Directorate (led by an Executive Director), five Colleges (headed by
       Executive Deans) and a number of research institutes (led by directors). The Vice-
       Principal: Academic and Research (assisted by the Executive Deans and the Executive
       Director: Research), provides strategic leadership to the research function in the
       university.
    2) Research Directorate: The UNISA Research Directorate is headed by an Executive
       Director who reports to the Vice-Principal: Academic and Research. It coordinates and
       administers institutional research processes, functions and events. The Directorate


1 Research typology borrowed from A Good Practice Guide for Quality Management of Research.
   HEQC and CHE, July 2005, p.9.
2 UNISA 2015 Strategic Plan, p.6.
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    administers the proceedings and implements the decisions of the Senate Research
    Committee. It also liaises with external stakeholders.
3) Senate Committees: The Senate Research Committee in which all research entities in
    the university are represented, coordinates, facilitates and regulates all research
    matters. This committee is chaired by the Vice-Principal: Academic and Research. A
    similar and equally important committee of Senate is the Higher Degrees Committee,
    whose name is self-explanatory, chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor. The latter
    committee oversees the consolidation and coordination of standardised postgraduate
    research regulations and enabling processes. Both committees report to Senate.
4) College and Other Research Management Structures: Within the colleges,
    research is managed by College Research Committees. Clear processes and
    procedures - coordinated between colleges and the Research Directorate - have been
    established. Research in the the Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership is
    managed by a Research Committee, and research in the professional and
    administrative sector is managed by PARC, the Professional and Administrative
    Research Committee.
5) Research Information Management System: Over the years UNISA has constructed
    an effective and state of the art Research Information Management System.
6) Plough-back Policy: The university has resolved, among other things, that the use of
    research earnings and reserves generated from subsidised publications, graduation of
    Master’s and Doctoral students, as well as research grants received from various
    funding bodies are used exclusively for research support and growth. In this way,
    money earned through research is ploughed back into research.
7) College-based Postgraduate Support: Human, infrastructural and financial resources
    and support have been specifically set aside for postgraduate studies in all five
    colleges.
8) Research Leave: As well as the normal annual and sick leave arrangements, the
    university offers special leave arrangements for the purposes of research, namely
    research and development leave (sabbatical).
9) International Fellowship Programme: The Fellowship programme facilitates the
    exchange of academic and professional staff between UNISA and other reputable
    Universities and Institutions, especially UNISA’s formal partners, to provide
    opportunities to staff for, amongst other things, research development.
10) The UNISA Library is one of the best resourced in the country if not the continent -
    it is a national research asset. The Library is well resourced in terms of IT links to
    major bibliographies, databases and libraries around the world. Thanks to these
    technologies, the UNISA Library is able to offer an effective service to its staff and its
    students located all over the world.
11) Research Centres and Institutes: UNISA is home to several Research Centres and
    Institutes whose names reveal their niche research foci. Notable among these are: The
    Centre for African Renaissance Studies, Institute for Continuing Education, Institute
    for Social and Health Studies, Bureau for Market Research, Research Institute for
    Theology and Religion.
12) UNISA Press: The UNISA publishing house is home to a large number of scientific
    journals accredited by the Department of Education. The Press also publishes several
    books for the specialist every year.
13) Researchers: Finally, the most important resource for research at UNISA is its
    excellent crop of researchers and academics across the broad fields of Law,
    Economics, Management, Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, Languages,
    Agriculture, Environmental Sciences, Natural Sciences, Engineering and Technology.
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3. UNISA in the National R&D and Higher Education Scene

3.1 The Place of UNISA

According to the Education White Paper 3 (DoE, July 1997), the major objectives of the
South African Higher Education system are: human resource development, high-level skills
training as well as the production, acquisition and application of knowledge. To this end, the
promotion of equity of access to higher education, the meeting of national development needs
as well as the advancement of knowledge and scholarship are pivotal. UNISA’s particular
insertion into this national scenario is addressed in the National Plan for Higher Education
(2001). A key aim of the merger of the former University of South Africa and the erstwhile
Technikon South Africa, as well as the incorporation of the distance-education centre of the
former Vista University, was to establish a ‘single dedicated distance education institution to
address the opportunities presented by distance education’ both locally and continentally. The
most distinctive feature about UNISA therefore, is its mode of delivery as an open distance
learning institution. In this regard UNISA’s reach, accessibility and its potential for the
integration of ICT technologies in teaching and research over any distance are some of its
defining strengths. Strong in postgraduate research and teaching, UNISA is innovative and
pioneering in the conducting of high-level ODL research in S&T fields, Agricultural and
Environmental Sciences as well as the Human Sciences. As a dedicated open and distance
learning institution, UNISA is, therefore able to play a pioneering role in research in various
disciplines.

3.2 National R&D Strategy

If the Higher Education parameters within which UNISA functions as indicated above
emanate mainly from the DoE, other considerations emanating from such national strategies
as the Human Resource Development Strategy, the Integrated Manufacturing Strategy, as
well as the Strategic Plan for South African Agriculture are equally important. Of particular
significance is the national Research and Development Strategy. This strategy is built on a
clear realisation of a diminishing science and technology human-resource base comprising
mainly a white, male and aging scientific community. The strategy also seeks to address the
reduced and reducing private sector investment in R&D. Similarly, the South African
contribution to global research remains low in relation to other developing countries in the
world. The strategy also suggests ways in which intellectual-property competencies will
stimulate and protect local and indigenous knowledges, discoveries and innovations. In order
to address these problems the national R&D Strategy has the following strategic objectives:
innovation, refreshing and increasing human capital, transformation in science and
technology, science and technology for poverty reduction, as well as the creation of an
effective government Science and Technology System. The aim of producing a coherent,
coordinated and effective government S&T system led by the Department of Science and
Technology but spanning several other departments and research councils (Minerals and
Energy, Trade and Industry, Water Affairs, Arts and Culture, and Education, etc.), is also
named as an important consideration.

3.2.1 Examples of Important National Research Areas

The South African R&D Strategy flags several priority areas for research, such as poverty
reduction and the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Pertaining to poverty reduction, the following are
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 highlighted: water and sanitation, food security and agriculture, education, health and energy.
 In terms of potential foci for new technology platforms the following are some of the themes
 flagged: automatic language technologies, low cost telephone and email integration, satellite
 telephony, open source software initiatives, as well as participation in global high-bandwidth
 experimentation. Furthermore, it is suggested that, in order to ensure competitiveness, South
 Africa should, for example, develop areas of scientific focus areas along the following lines:
 Isolate areas in which South Africa has geographic advantage: astronomy (access to Southern
 skies), human palaeontology (Marupeng sites), biodiversity (Cape Floral Kingdom), Antarctic
 research (the only African country with a presence on the Antarctic continent) and areas
 where South Africa has an obvious knowledge advantage: indigenous knowledge, technology
 for deep mining, high incidence of diseases of poverty, micro-satellite engineering, the
 African Integrates Approach to HIV/AIDS vaccine development, encryption technology and
 fluorine technology. The R&D Strategy also notes the strategic research vehicle of Centres
 and Networks of Excellence, e.g. the National Laser Centre Pretoria, The Southern African
 Large Telescope (SALT) in the Northern Cape, the Deep-mine Programme, as well as the
 Sahara Program on the Social Impact of HIV/AIDS based in the HSRC.

 4. UNISA’s Research Niche and Priority Areas
 The UNISA research agenda is guided by a non-negotiable pursuit of excellence against the
 most stringent of established national and international benchmarks in all of the areas
 mentioned at the end of sub-section 1 above. To this end, UNISA understands as key aspects
 of its mission, the conducting of research with integrity, quality and rigour, as well as the
 promotion of an institutional culture that encourages critical discourse, intellectual curiosity,
 tolerance and a diversity of views3. While excellence in research can be viewed traditionally
 as founded on the quest for knowledge as a means for human beings to deepen their grasp of
 the complexity of reality, this goal of knowledge and research can no longer be seen as self-
 sufficient, but rather, should be supplemented with applied knowledge in areas such as
 innovation, localisation, production, governance, policy-making, etc. It is in this spirit that
 UNISA seeks to creatively appropriate the national research agenda as reflected in key
 government policies and strategies spanning several departments and portfolios – a sample of
 which has been cited above. In doing this, UNISA is conscious of its mandate in terms of the
 National Plan for Higher Education, as well as its strengths and potentials in relation to the
 National Research and Development Strategy.

 UNISA recognises that the success of any Institutional Research Plan is dependent on the
 quality and excellence of its researchers. This Plan should therefore be read in conjunction
 with the following other documents that aim at the development and improvement of
 individual researchers at UNISA: the Comprehensive Research Development Plan (draft), the
 Master’s and Doctoral Support Programme for Designated Research and Academic Staff
 (draft), as well as the Research Policy (approved) and the Policy on Grants (approved).
 UNISA also recognises that there is a close relationship between teaching and research, and
 that excellence in the one fosters excellence in the other. This view is clearly reflected in the
 criteria for Centres of Excellence as defined in the UNISA Research Policy.

 The following research niche and priority areas are defined:

i.   Open Distance Learning Research: ODL is the unique and definitive contribution with

 3 UNISA 2015 Strategic Plan, p.4.
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       which UNISA seeks to add value to the research enterprise across and beyond the
       traditional disciplines. The intersection of ODL and traditional disciplines, the place of
       ODL in the construction of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity as well as the role of
       all this in the transformation of higher education are all areas of research in which UNISA
       has unique competencies and interest. Closely related to this is the question of the
       massification of Science and Technology skills as well as increased access to education in
       general and higher education in particular, particularly through academic literacy. The
       contextualisation of ICT and other technologies for use in the delivery of teaching and
       research in developing countries is another important area. As one of the ten mega-
       universities of the world and the largest on the African continent, UNISA is at the
       forefront of one of the greatest drivers of higher education and university reform in the
       world, namely ODL. This has been earmarked as a rich area of and for research.

 ii.   African Renaissance Studies: Seeking to go beyond the confines and colonial baggage
       of traditional, cultural and regional studies, as reflected in African Studies, UNISA has
       elected an innovative and positive approach that mitigates destructive essentialism and
       colonial stereotyping. Understood in this way, African Renaissance Studies is a study both
       of Africa in the world and the world in Africa. This approach encompasses such diverse
       areas as trans-Atlantic studies, African Diaspora studies, African Religion, African
       Languages, Genocide Studies, Afro-Brazilian Studies, African Intellectual Traditions,
       African History, African Politics, Economics as well as African Art and Music within and
       beyond the borders of African countries.

iii.   Poverty and Development Studies: The UNISA academic scene has several
       constellations of researchers already engaging and capable of engaging in studies
       designed to understand, analyse and deal with one of the biggest challenges facing the
       country and the continent, namely poverty. Such constellations include researchers,
       organised or individual, located in disciplines such as development studies, economics,
       engineering, communication science, health studies, political science and environmental
       studies. Some of these researchers are already making linkages between poverty and
       diseases such as HIV/AIDS. UNISA has identified poverty as a research area needing
       more intensive attention and worthy of consolidation across the disciplines.

iv.    HIV and AIDS Social Studies: The social, economic and legal impact of HIV and AIDS
       on the peoples of the African continent is considerable4. Boasting strong social, human,
       economic and legal science clusters, UNISA is in a good position to undertake research on
       the impact of AIDS. There are at least five major ongoing research initiatives on
       HIV/AIDS at UNISA in the Departments of a) Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, b)
       Psychology, c) Sociology, d) Anthropology, e) Health Studies, and f) the College of Law.
       These are in need of consolidation and intensification.

 v.    South African Market and Fiscal Research: As a developing economy and country, one
       of the challenges we face, is the ability to keep a finger on the pulse of our economy and
       market as well as our ability to forecast future trends. In this regard, it is imperative that
       research on specific segments of the South African market is done regularly. In this regard
       the UNISA Bureau for Market Research is a hub around which this type of research is
       being conducted. A glance at some of the research topics covered over the past few years
       illustrates UNISA’s potential in this area. Such topics include empirical research done on

   4 UNISA 2015 Strategic Plan, p.10, 13.
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      managing HIV and AIDS in the workplace, the skills development and training survey,
      the socio-economic impact of electrification on poor households, an analysis of textile
      manufacturers, the socio-economic impact of gambling, a forecasting of the future number
      of social-grant dependants, various service-satisfaction surveys, etc. Such research is a
      key to economic planning. This area of research needs more long-term planning,
      consolidation and intensification.

vi.   Mathematics, Science and Technology Education: One of the weaknesses of the South
      African Higher Education system – highlighted in the National Plan for Higher Education
      – is the participation of the young, blacks and women in mathematics, science and
      technology education. Through its strong science education crop of researchers UNISA
      has immense potential for research and skills development in this area. Our reach into
      remote areas as well as the larger SADC region places upon UNISA an immense
      opportunity to contribute significantly towards the attainment of millennium goals related
      to education. To this end, UNISA hosts an Institute for Science and Technology
      Education.

  vii. Law, Democracy, Constitutionality and Globalisation: As a young democracy going
       through fundamental transformation, the research function of a) identification, analysis
       and critique of laws and inherited legal practices has become as important as that of b)
       constructing, interpreting and evaluating a new legal framework that is consonant with the
       democratic values of the new society. More specific, but related to these broad fields and
       increasingly invoked by the phenomenon of globalisation, are areas such as: intellectual-
       property law, information-technology law, human rights, medical and comparative law, as
       well as civil procedure, delict, criminology, police practice and various aspects of
       mercantile law. These broad areas have been earmarked as niche and priority areas in
       which UNISA has immense potential and scope for intensification and consolidation.

  viii. Science, Engineering and Technology: In these fields, UNISA has earmarked the areas
       of Materials Development, Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, Theoretical Nuclear
       Physics, Cosmology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Ecotoxicology and Fuel Cell Technology.
       UNISA already boasts a few B and C rated scientists and several ongoing projects in these
       areas. They also coincide with several themes flagged by the National R&D Strategy.
       UNISA has therefore earmarked these for prioritisation, intensification and consolidation.

  ix. Information and Communication Technologies: Between the School of Computing, the
      College of Law, the Departments of Information Sciences, Communication, Linguistics,
      African Languages, European Languages, and Mathematical Sciences, UNISA has a
      strong contingency of researchers already collaborating in such diverse areas as Natural
      Language Processing and Human Language Technology, including among other things,
      machine translation, information broadcasting and regulation, human–computer
      interaction, information security, software engineering, scientific computing as well as
      specialised research into translation and interpreting. These areas have been marked out
      for prioritisation, more coherent collaboration and consolidation.

  x. Biomedical, Agricultural and Environmental Research: With several research projects
      already underway in these broad fields, UNISA will seek to build more synergies between
      the various projects with a view to consolidation. Research in these areas include:
      indigenous plant studies, water availability and usage, specialised biodiversity studies,
      land surface and soil studies, human nature and animal interaction studies, food security
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   and various ecology-orientated studies.

xi. Culture, Language and Identity: UNISA boasts a strong contingent of researchers,
    several of whom are rated, with expertise in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary
    studies. These studies embrace the arts and the humanities, languages and literature,
    computing, as well as theology and other related cultural areas. These broad fields
    straddle the traditional disciplines of anthropology, religion, theology, history,
    psychology, sociology, linguistics, information technology and African Studies.

xii. Crime, Injury and Violence: The above-mentioned represent a significant social,
     political and economic burden on many countries. South Africa is no exception. UNISA,
     together with the MRC and WHO has been engaged in collaborative research around
     these issues for several years. These efforts have been coordinated by the UNISA Institute
     for Health Studies, based in Lenasia, Johannesburg.

xiii. Management and Leadership Development: Research in this area needs to focus on the
     pressing management shortages in the Southern African business, public sector and other
     environments.
xiv) Teacher Training: UNISA boasts a large, accredited and vibrant School of Education in
     which teachers in South Africa and neighbouring countries receive basic and further
     training. The school also hosts an accredited academic journal and engages in
     collaborative research work on teacher training with several local and international
     organisations as well as several African governments.

5. Institutional Research Targets and Objectives5
The following are some of the research targets, plans and general objectives at UNISA:

   i)      UNISA has in place processes, structures and policies to make it possible for
           researchers to achieve by 2015, the DoE benchmark of 1.25 accredited research
           output points per researcher per annum. Another research target in the 2015
           Strategic Plan is that reflective research should make up 10% of the overall
           research at UNISA.

   ii)     UNISA has set aside considerable resources to support a number of scientific
           journals, serving not only UNISA researchers, but also South African and
           international researchers. Such support will not only be monetary but will include
           a range of quality assurance functions.

   iii)    Through the purposeful, specialist support and guidance of UNISA researchers as
           well as responsiveness to our external stakeholders, UNISA aims to gradually
           increase the number and amounts of research grants attached to and secured by
           UNISA researchers.

   iv)     Building on UNISA’s extensive list of collaboration arrangements with sister
           institutions locally, continentally and internationally, specific strategies and
           structures are in place for the increment of contract research collaboration between
           UNISA and external stakeholders.

5 Adapted from UNISA 2015 Strategic Plan, p.17.
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   v)      One of the ways in which the research profile of UNISA will be raised is through
           the increment of rated researchers on an average of seven per annum until 2015.
           Specialist advice, guidance and support will be given to researchers on an on-
           going basis so as to enable them to pace themselves with a view to making strong
           submissions to the NRF.

   vi)     A clear and deliberate policy for recruiting, developing and retaining women,
           black and younger researchers will be put in place, so that researchers belonging to
           these categories should make not less than 30% of the total crop of researchers at
           UNISA by 2015.

   vii)    UNISA is, through the enabling policies, structures and processes outlined above,
           set to become one of the top five research institutions in South Africa – in terms of
           annual research output, rated researchers and share of external research grants – in
           the fields related to the research niche areas indicated above.

   viii)   UNISA is finalising the details of an accelerated programme for the acquisition of
           post-graduate qualifications by UNISA researchers as an important strategy in
           raising the research profile of the institution. UNISA recognises the Doctorate as
           the basic qualification necessary for research in all disciplines offered in the
           institution.

   ix)     Through various strategies and mechanisms, UNISA will make resources, spaces
           and processes available for researchers to turn UNISA into a vibrant research hub
           in Gauteng, South Africa and internationally.

Drafted by Prof TS Maluleke
Executive Director: Research

With input from the following:

Dr B.E. Zawada
Dr GF Netswera
Dr R. Ladzani
College Research Committees
PARC
SBL
ISTE
SENREC

				
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