Leading change

Bumper crop of awards presented at grand finale of R&I week

Unisa is busy harvesting some of the fruits of its considerable investment in research: the annual Research and Innovation Awards represent a bumper crop of research excellence. In all, 62 researchers, from emerging to well established, were fêted at the awards ceremony, held on 3 March 2017.

Of these, a record number of 51 researchers were honoured for being newly rated or successfully rerated by the National Research Foundation. Nine of them received Y2 or Y1 ratings for researchers under the age of 40, while 36 received C ratings and six B ratings.

Prof Mandla Makhanya (Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa) and Prof Les Labuschagne (Acting Vice-Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation) applaud the achievements of Unisa researchers.

The other researchers being honoured were either recipients of Unisa’s most prestigious prizes for research excellence, such as the Principal’s Prize, which went to Dr Ndikho Mtshiselwa of the College of Human Sciences, or had received major external awards or other external recognition in 2016.

Two of Friday night’s winners stood out for receiving not one but two awards.

Prof Azwihangwisi Mavhandu-Mudzusi of the College of Human Sciences was acknowledged for her C3 rating and for winning a 2016 Unisa Women’s Award for Excellence in Research in the Leadership in Research category.

The other double winner was Professor Naomi Nkealah, also of the College of Human Sciences. She received two external accolades in 2016: a WISA Distinguished Young Women in Research Award and admission as a member of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS).

Among the guests at the event, held to conclude the annual Research & Innovation Week, were Dr Diane Parker, Deputy Director-General:  University Education at the Department of Higher Education and Training, and Dr Daisy Selematsela,  Executive Director of the National Research Foundation.

Driving and shaping scholarship across Africa

In his keynote address, Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said research in Africa made up only 2% of global research, while the research contribution of Sub-Saharan Africa was only 1%.

However, no other university on the continent was better placed than Unisa to drive and shape scholarship across Africa, the VC said.

Unisa’s vast potential to contribute to scholarship in Africa had been highlighted earlier in the week, he said, when speakers at the inauguration of the new Chancellor, Dr Thabo Mbeki, had “publicly vindicated” the huge amount of research being conducted at the university.

“Research at Unisa is not only conducted by academics and graduate students but also professional and administrative staff,” he said, adding that Unisa was strongly committed to encouraging women researchers and to supporting emerging researchers.

Return on investment

The impact of the investment Unisa has made in promoting research in the past five years came across clearly in the address of Prof Les Labuschagne, Acting Vice-Principal of Research, Graduate Studies, Innovation, and Commercialisation. “Our total publication output has increased with 67% and our scholarly books by 271% since 2011,” he said.

Black and women researchers were making a significant contribution to the university’s research output, he said.  “In 2011, black researchers were responsible for producing only 193 of Unisa’s research outputs, while women produced only 278. Only 22 of our NRF-rated researchers at the time were black researchers and only 44 were women.”

The position had changed dramatically after the introduction of 13 different research support programmes, Labuschagne said. “According to the latest DHET report, our black researchers were responsible for producing 436 of Unisa’s research outputs while women produced 372 in 2014. In 2016, we had 56 black and 72 women NRF-rated researchers.”

Turning to the role of Research & Innovation Week, held each year since 2012, Labuschagne said it was an essential part of the support available to the Unisa research community, as were the annual Research and Innovation Awards.

“Research matters at Unisa,” he said, referring to the theme, “Research Matters”, of R&I Week 2017. “But our researchers matter even more. This means that we recognise that the exponential growth over the past few years is the result of commitment, hard work and efforts of our dedicated researchers. Tonight is but a small gesture to recognise and thank these hard-working researchers for what they have achieved.”

Click here to view the full list of award-winners at this year’s Research and Innovation Awards.

NRF Y-rated researchers

External Awards and Recognitions Award recipients

Women in Research Awards

NRF B-rated researchers

NRF C-rated researchers

*Article by Clairwyn van der Merwe

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Publish date: 2017/03/07