N.B.W Mlitwa, Z. Ntuli

University of ZuluLand (SOUTH AFRICA)
In line with its mission to produce relevant, globally competitive and career competent graduates as well as inroads in the pursuit of cutting-edge research, the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) has embarked on strengthening its technology and research capacity. To achieve this goal however, the university is levelling the terrain against disabling impediments. Limited quality & quantity of research skills is one of the major challenges in this context. In particular, a lack of the necessary human capital to adequately advance both the applied (innovative inventions generating) research, and research for publications in accredited journals, stands out in this respect. Potent redress measures therefore, have become even more urgent for UNIZULU to realize its research ambitions. Through its Research & Innovation Office (RIO), the University embarked on creative efforts to advance its research skills base. A vibrant training program to support emerging researchers, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students is a case in point. The problem however, is that we did not know the extent to which the capacity development initiatives were reddressing the capacity challenge. Because of the uncertainty, it becomes difficult to shape reinforcements or amendments to onging training initiatives. The aim of this project therefore, was to explore the potency of this multi-faceted training programme in raising the skills level of emerging researchers at UNIZULU, to the level of effective research in the institution – and beyond. In this scientific quest, activity theory (AT) framework is used as a theoretical framework to contextualize the research phenomenon. Further, a mixed research methods approach – incorporating documents analysis, statistical analysis (quantitative) and researcher observations were employed. Through the lens of the AT framework, the institutional research terrain is unpacked as an objective-based activity with goals, inputs, actors, activities, mediators (enabling & inhibiting) and resultant outcomes – with a major interdependence between all these factors. Whilst the findings reflect on a series of workshops, seminars and short courses that are organised by the RIO in an academic year, outcomes emerge to be clearly mixed – with a clear co-relationship between success or failure, and the type of mediating factors in a respective given case.