ENHANCING RESEARCH CULTURE & EXPERIENCES OF ACADEMIC STAFF & POST GRADUATE (PG) STUDENTS IN A COMPREHENSIVE UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENT - A CASE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ZULULAND
It is the goal of every research and innovation institution to improve its research capacity and potency. The University of Zululand is no exception to this rule, and through its research and innovation office (RIO), it seeks to modernize and enhance its research capacity, in a number of ways. As its mandate, RIO explored the status of its research terrain, drawing on the outcome of its research workshops in July 2015 and January 2016, to articulate its 2016 to 2018 approach to advancing its research direction in the institution. We drew on a broader institutional vision and mission, major policies on higher degree processes and related frameworks and the institutional historical context to understand the background. Then, institutional objectives on teaching, learning, scholarship and enquiry (including ambitions on publications and post-graduate throughput) were analyzed to understand priority areas. We proceeded to take stock of the status quo to identify gaps and key areas of redress. Starting with RIO – it was found to be under-staffed, needing at least 2 additional staff members and 2 additional offices in order to deliver on its institutional mandate. Institutionally, there are fewer academics with doctoral qualifications. Supervision capacity is also prohibitively minimal in many academic departments. Due to limited profiling, the institution was found to be hardly visible nationally and internationally, limiting its capacity to attract skilled researchers and academics of choice. Therefore, there were fewer research grant holders among academics, with only 1 South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) Chair, 15 rated researchers, 2 Thuthuka grant holders, 15 Post-doctoral fellows and a total of 407.50 Government Subsidy (SAPSE) points - from 1072 Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET) accredited publications in the entire institution. Subsequently, a research culture was found to be weaker, with limited research activity and modest publication outputs (at least by its own standards of development ambition). A quest to increase Post Graduate (PG) enrollments were suffocated by financial misfortunes of aspiring candidates. Very few 4th year graduates could progress to further degrees – largely due to financial challenges. Equally frustrating was that only a fraction of applicants to the National Research Foundation (NRF) actually get such scholarships. From this background, an operational framework as well as a recommended approach to redressing the challenges of the institution were explored as outlined in this paper. For example, the outcome of the paper was to outline milestones, mechanisms of attaining them and progress measures.