The University of Johannesburg (UJ) in association with Universities South Africa (USAf) and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, hosted a successful a two-day symposium on developing the capacity of early career researchers on the 18 and 19 March, 2019 at the Chinua Achebe Auditorium, Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus Library.
UJ welcomed a number of high-profile participants from academia, industry and government, all ready for two rigorous days of debate and reflection. Among those in attendance were Professors Tshilidzi Marwala and Adam Habib, the Vice-Chancellors of UJ and Wits University, respectively, Dr Joanna Newman, the CEO of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and Ms Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Higher Education and Training.
With the unanimous acknowledgement of the importance of emerging scholars, the theme of the event sought to identify how to support and develop the capacity of early career researchers. Early career researchers and academics are crucial to the long-term vitality of teaching and research, and to the future of South African universities. They are the next generation of teaching staff, of cutting-edge innovation and research leadership, and are a valuable resource to be nurtured and developed.
Prof Tshilidzi Marwala Vice-Chancellor (UJ) welcomed guests and audience members, acknowleding the pressing issue of research capacity. ”The issue of knowledge production and research capacity is very important, and we have to ask ourselves the critical question of how do we capacitate our researchers so that they become world-class.”
”This symposium is crucial because we want to move towards a regime whereby our young researchers are well supported so that they may have a strong impact on not only the research field but also on teaching and learning, because the two are closely aligned,” he said.
He added that the challenge for universities is to create an environment that enables these early career researchers to thrive. Soaring enrolment, he said, has placed unprecedented pressures on many institutions, leaving emerging academics struggling with heavy teaching and administrative workloads. When resources are strained, ensuring that emerging researchers can develop and grow often presents a major challenge.
Keynote speaker, Honourable Naledi Pandor, echoed the objectives of the symposium, maintaining that there is a need to pay closer attention to building on the foundations of the existing research capacity of our universities.
”We believe very strongly in government that the modernisation of the South African economy should and will be driven by higher education – particularly by universities. These are the institutions that train the professionals that we need in the economy. Increasing the number of PhD graduates is crucial, not only for future development but also for equity and diversity in South Africa.”
The venue of the symposium was symbolic, as UJ’s growth in research output during the past decade has been remarkable, contributing to the university being well positioned and recognised as a research-focused institution. The rise in the overall stature of researchers at UJ has seen an increase in external research funding, and UJ researchers are well recognised in South Africa and beyond for their excellent research and training.
The expanded Research and Innovation Division (now including the Technology Transfer Office) has positioned itself to continue this upward trajectory in the context of the University’s engagement with the fourth industrial revolution. Guiding principles will remain the quality of research outputs, continued investments in a sustainable cohort of well-qualified research staff, leveraging of enhanced national and international collaborations and partnerships in areas of strength, a growing focus on collaboration. Most importantly, an enhanced technology transfer of research through innovation and entrepreneurship is vital for a university of the 21st century as UJ.