Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Evaluation of Strategies for Building a Research Culture-An Empirical Case Study at an African University

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Evaluation of Strategies for Building a Research Culture-An Empirical Case Study at an African University

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a previous publication (Studman 2003a), the first author of this article described a variety of factors involved in the development of a new Office of Research and Development at the University of Botswana. Although in a developing country, which consists mainly of the Kalahari Desert, the University of Botswana has received relatively strong financial government support since its establishment in 1982, and it has experienced dramatic growth in the number of applications for admission from students eligible for tertiary education. Thus, by 2005 there were approximately 15,000 equivalent fulltime students.

The factors that supported the financial well-being of the country and the consequent demand for tertiary education included the combination of a stable society, the discovery of diamonds in 1967, a democratic and peaceful electoral system, and generally benevolent governance with low corruption. However, in recent years, economic pressures, such as the demands on government funding for the civil service, education and other services, have forced the government, to exert more control over expenditure, including restricting the level of support for the university, while still requiring it to accept increasing numbers of students. As a result, between 1997 and 2003, the overall student-staff ratio deteriorated from 12: l to 16:1. In practice, due to staff vacancies, the figure was often around 19:l,

As an institution with a vision for academic excellence (University of Botswana, 2003), the university recognised and acknowledged the principles of research-led teaching (Hattie & Marsh, 1996; Geiger, 1993; Lipset, 1994; Pratt, 1997; Zubrick, 2000), despite its predominantly undergraduate teaching history. The role of research in national development was also recognised (Studman, 2003b). However, in the late 1990s the university also recognised that its research activity was not satisfactory, and so set about improving the situation. It shared the problems of many other predominantly undergraduate institutions as described by Hazelkorn (2002).

Studman (2003a) outlined changes introduced to develop the research culture at the university. An analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of a given situation was conducted (SWOT analysis is a commonly used strategy to understand any situation). The key challenge areas identified were: l) no strategic planning or alignment of research with university goals and strategies; 2) poor use of internal funds; 3) an absence of accountability for resources; 4) no management of the quality of outputs; 5) no structure for commercialisation of research; 6) limited postgraduate research; 7) insufficient motivation for some staff; 8) administratively complex research procedures, but no effective research support structure; 9) increasing teaching workloads; 10) insufficient training in research management, methodology, and communication; 11) no database of research capabilities, and few reported research outputs; and 12) lack of funding source information. In addition, some staff preferred private consultancy to research for financial reasons, sometimes at the expense of their teaching responsibilities. Clearly, major changes were required.

After prioritisation, and after assessing the available capability of the Office of Research and Development staff, strategic changes introduced initially included: 1) development of research policy; 2) recovery and utilisation of internal funding through simplified, transparent procedures; 3) introduction of a quality and accountability management programme; 4) introduction of encouragements to undertake research; and 5) training in research proposal writing.

As recommended by Drummond (2003), we developed a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of changes. While an ultimate measure of success in expanding research is an increase in the number of research outputs (i. …

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