Low research productivity: Transformation, institutional and leadership concern at a South African university
Keywords:Transformation, Productivity, Leadership, Institution, Research, Academics, Policies
A key indicator of the academic worth, value and development of a university is its research capacity and publications. The universities of technologies (UoTs) that merged from former technikons have been poorly ranked due to low research performance. Hands have been pointed at the academics, some school of thought blamed the institutions, others pointed at the government agencies in charge of higher education policies, regulation, and restructuring. The aim of this paper is to examine empirically from the institutional point of view, reasons for low research output in the UoTs. A qualitative research approach was adopted by conducting semi-structured interviews with 15 academic staff and a comprehensive focus group meeting among six academics from three faculties in the same UoT. Heavy workload, career ambiguity, poaching, staffing, sabbatical leave policy, large student numbers, unawareness of incentives, poor retention strategies, institutional history, understanding of research mandate, clarity of policies and procedures and poor time management emerged as the contributing factors to low research output in the UoT. According to the fourth dimension of systems archetype, the study contributes to knowledge by allowing a level of understanding into the problem under investigation. Strategic issues to be considered were suggested for the stakeholders as a way forward.
Akala, B.M. 2018. Challenging gender equality in South African transformation policies - a case of the White Paper: a programme for the transformation of higher education. South African Journal of Higher Education, 32(3): 226–248. https://doi.org/10.20853/32-3-1521
Altbach, P.G. 2016. The emergence and reality of contemporary internationalization in global perspectives on higher education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Altmann, S. & Kröll, C. 2018. Understanding employees’ intention to take sabbaticals. Personnel Review, P882–899. https://doi.org/10.1108/PR-01-2017-0021
Aronowitz, S. & Giroux, H.A. 2000. The corporate university and the politics of education. IThe Educational Forum, 64(4): 332–339. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131720008984778
Awung, M. & Dorasamy, N. 2016. The effectiveness of gender equity policies in higher education: The case of the Durban University of Technology. Journal of Social Sciences, 48(1–2): 119–128. https://doi.org/10.1080/09718923.2016.11893576
Badat, S. 2010. Global rankings of universities: A perverse and present burden. In E. Unterhalter & V. Carpentier (Eds.). Global inequalities and higher education. Whose Interests are we serving? USA: Red Globe Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-230-36507-0_5
Badat, S. 2010. The challenges of transformation in higher education and training institutions in South Africa. Development Bank of Southern Africa, 8: 1–37.
Badat, S. 2015. Institutional combinations and the creation of a new higher education institutional landscape in post-1994 South Africa. In A. Curaj, L. Georghiou, J.C. Harper & E. Egron-Polak (Eds.). Mergers and alliances in higher education (pp. 175–201). New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13135-1_9
Blatchford, P., Russell, A. & Webster, R. 2016. Maximising the impact of teaching assistants: Guidance for school leaders and teachers, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
Bless, J.J., Westerhausen, R., Arciuli, J., Kompus, K., Gudmundsen, M. & Hugdahl, K. 2013. “Right on all occasions?” – On the feasibility of laterality research using a smartphone dichotic listening application. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 42. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00042
Buscatto, M. 2016. Practising reflexivity in ethnography. In D. Silverman (Ed.). Qualitative research (pp. 138–140). New York: Sage.
Cadez, S., Dimovski, V. & Zaman Groff, M. 2017. Research, teaching, and performance evaluation in academia: the salience of quality. Studies in Higher Education, 42(8): 1455–1473. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2015.1104659
Cele, P.C. & Lekhanya, L.M. 2014. Research output level at Durban University of Technology (DUT) in South Africa: contributing factors and their implications. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 465–474.
Chipeta, J. & Nyambe, I.A. 2012. Publish or perish: Ushering in UNZA-JABS. JABS, 1(1): 1–4.
Cloete, F. 2009. Evidence-based policy analysis in South Africa: Critical assessment of the emerging government-wide monitoring and evaluation system. Journal of Public Administration, 44(2): 293–311.
Cloete, N. 2014. The South African higher education system: Performance and policy. Studies in Higher Education, 39(8): 1355–1368. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.949533
Cloete, N., Maassen, P. & Bailey, T. 2015. Knowledge production and contradictory functions in African higher education. Cape Town: African Minds. https://doi.org/10.47622/978-1-920677-85-5
Council on Higher Education (CHE). 2012. 20 years review of higher education in South Africa. Higher education output has increased from 6606 in 2004 to 12363 in 2012. Available at https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/21351/ [Accessed 20 July 2020].
Creswell, J.W. 1998. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Davids, N. 2016. On extending the truncated parameters of transformation in higher education in South Africa into a language of democratic engagement and justice. Available at https://thejournal.org.za/index.php/thejournal/article/view/40. [Accessed 20 July 2020]. https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.7
Dee, T.S. & Goldhaber, D. 2017. Understanding and addressing teacher shortages in the United States. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution.
Deming E.2019. Systems archetypes as dynamic theories. Available. at https://thesystemsthinker.com/systems-archetypes-as-dynamic-theories/ [Accessed on 15 July 2020].
Deming E. 2021 The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Available at https://deming.org/quotes/10177/ [Accessed 20 March 2021].
Department of Higher education and Training (DHET) .1998. Education further education and Training Act 1998. Available at https://www.dhet.gov.za/Legal%20and%20Legislative%20Services/FET%20Act%20R. [Accessed on 10 May 2020].
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) .2001. Department of Education on white paper on inclusive education and report on special schools: briefing. Available at https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/1536/. [Accessed on 10 May 2020].
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) .2012. Green paper for post school and training. Available at https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/34935gen11b0.pdf [Accessed on 10 May 2020].
Department of Higher Education and Training.2014. Statistics on post school education and training in South Africa. Report on statistical information on student enrolment, graduation, and staffing. Available at https://www.dhet.gov.za/DHET%20Statistics%20Publication/Statistics%20on%20Post. [Accessed on 10 May 2020].
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). 2015. Statistics for post school education and training 2015. Available at https://www.dhet.gov.za/DHET%20Statistics%20Publication/Statistics%20on%20Post-Percentage [Accessed on 11 May 2020].
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) .2014. Annual report on student enrolment and financial support. Available at https://www.dhet.gov.za/Commissions%20Reports/DHET a%20Annual%20Report%2020. [Accessed 10 May 2020].
Department of Education (DoE) .2010. Higher education governance policy: Education White Paper 3: A programme for the transformation of higher education. Available at https://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/105745. [Accessed 12 July 2020].
Enders, J. 2004. Higher education, internationalisation, and the nation-state: Recent developments and challenges to governance theory. Higher Education, 47(3): 361–382. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:HIGH.0000016461.98676.30
Fetterman, D.M. 2009. Ethnography: Step-by-step, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Furbish, D.S. 2009. Self-funded leave and life role development. Journal of Employment Counseling, 46(1): 38-46. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1920.2009.tb00064.x
Heathfield, S.M. 2019. Executive support and leadership in change management. Leadership is key in change management. Available at https://www.thebalancecareers.com/executive-support-and-leadership-in-change-management-1917803 [Accessed 2 August 2020].
Hennink, M., Hutter, I. & Bailey, A. 2020. Qualitative research methods. London: Sage Publications Limited.
Higher Education South Africa. 2014. South African higher education in the 20th year of democracy: Context, achievements, and key challenges. Higher Education South Africa presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training in Parliament. Available at https://www.hesa.org.za/hesa-presentation-portfolio-committeehigher-education-and-training [Accessed 20 May 2020].
Hornsby, D.J. & Osman, R. 2014. Massification in higher education: Large classes and student learning. Higher Education, 67(6): 711–719. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9733-1
Hoosen, S. & Butcher N. 2019. Understanding the impact of open education resource (OER). Available at: https://iite.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Understanding_the_impact_of_OER. [Accessed 29 July 2020].
Ibegbulam, I.J. & Jacintha, E.U. 2016. Factors that contribute to research and publication output among librarians in Nigerian university libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(1): 15–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.09.007
Ion, G. & Castro Ceacero, D. 2017. Transitions in the manifestations of the research culture of Spanish universities. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(2): 311–324. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1208153
Ipaye, T.F. 2018. Developing a new crop of university professional administrators: The paradigm shift. University of Lagos Public Lecture, 17: 3–7.
Javed, S.A. & Liu, S. 2018. Predicting the research output/growth of selected countries: Application of even GM and NDGM models. Scientometrics, 115(1): 395–413. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-017-2586-5
Keet, A. 2020. South African university transformation at a crossroad. Available at https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200225094803518 [Accessed 30 July 2020].
Kim, D.H. & Lannon, C. 1997. Applying systems archetypes. Waltham: Pegasus Communications.
Le Roux, C.S. 2017. Exploring rigour in autoethnographic research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 20(2): 195–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2016.1140965
Masaiti, G. & Mwale, N. 2017. University of Zambia: Contextualization and contribution to flagship status in Zambia. In D. Teferra (Ed.). Flagship universities in Africa (pp. 467–505). Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49403-6_12
Maürtin-Cairncross, A. 2014. An aligned alliance in allegiance to the drum beat of higher education’s transformation agenda: A critical discourse lens. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(6): 233–241. https://doi.org/10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n6p233
Maxwell, J.A. 2008. Designing a qualitative study. In L. Bickman & D.J. Rog (Eds.). The Sage handbook of applied social research methods (pp. 214–253). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483348858.n7
Miller, M.T., Bai, K. & Newman, R.E. 2012. A critical examination of sabbatical application policies: Implications for academic leaders. College Quarterly, 15(2): 1–12.
Mugenda, O.M. & Mugenda, M.A.G. 2003. Research methods: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. Nairobi: African Centre Technology Studies Press.
National Research Fund (NRF). 2017. Independent government agency for research funding in South Africa. Available at http://www.nrf.ac.za [Accessed 30 July 2020].
Noe, R. A., Hollenbeck, J.R., Gerhart, B. & Wright, P.M. 2017. Human resource management: Gaining a competitive advantage. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Peters, M.A. 2007. Higher education, globalisation, and the knowledge economy: Reclaiming the cultural mission. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1145/1267047.1276155
Petersen, A.M., Riccaboni, M., Stanley, H.E. & Pammolli, F. 2012. Persistence and uncertainty in the academic career. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(14): 5213-5218. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1121429109
Philips, S. &Heywood-Roos, R. 2015. Job security for early career researchers is a significant factor in helping research make an impact. Available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/06/30/early-career-paths-of-doctorate-holders-esf-pilot/ [Accessed 12 June 2020].
Pillinger, M.H., Lemon, S.C., Zand, M.S., Foster, P.J., Merchant, J.S., Kimberly, R., Allison, J., Cronstein, B.N., Galeano, C., Holden-Wiltse, J. & Trayhan, M. 2019. Come from away: Best practices in mini-sabbaticals for the development of young investigators: A White Paper by the SEQUIN (mini-Sabbatical Evaluation and Quality Improvement) Group. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 3(1): 37–44. https://doi.org/10.1017/cts.2019.369
Rennie, D.L. 2012. Qualitative research as methodical hermeneutics. Psychological Methods, 17(3): 385–398. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029250
Sandy, W. & Shen, H. 2019. Publish to earn incentives: How do Indonesian professors respond to the new policy? Higher Education, 77(2): 247–263. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0271-0
Scott, P. 2018. Compliance and creativity: Dilemmas for university governance. European Review, 26(S1): S35-S47. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1062798717000527
Shaw, C. & Ward, L. 2014. Dark thoughts: Why mental illness is on the rise in academia. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/mar/06/mental-health-aca. [Accessed 30 July 2020].
Schilling, R., Haki, K. & Aier, S. 2017. Introducing archetype theory to information systems research: a literature review and call for future research. St. Gallen, Switzerland: Association for Information Systems.
Shore, C. & Wright, S. 2016. Neo-liberalisation and the "Death of the Public University". Anuac, 5(1): 46-50.
Smith, J.A. 2004. Reflecting on the development of interpretative phenomenological analysis and its contribution to qualitative research in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1(1): 39–54.
Snowball, J.D. & Shackleton, C.M. 2018. Factors enabling and constraining research in a small, research-intensive South African University. Research Evaluation, 27(2): 119–131. https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvy002
Straub, C. 2007. A comparative analysis of the use of work-life balance practices in Europe. Gender in Management, 22(4): 289–304. https://doi.org/10.1108/09649420710754246
Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. 1994. Grounded theory methodology. Handbook of Qualitative Research, 17(1): 273–285.
Tjonneland, E.N. 2017. Crisis at South African universities, what are the implications for future cooperation with Norway? CMI Brief, 16(3): 1–4.
Venter, R. 2016. Theology and the (post-) apartheid university: Mapping discourses, interrogating transformation. Transformation in Higher Education, 1(1): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.5
Walliman, N. 2017. Research methods: The basics. London: Routledge.
Watermeyer, R. 2015. Lost in the ‘third space’: The impact of public engagement in higher education on academic identity, research practice and career progression. European Journal of Higher Education, 5(3): 331–347. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2015.1044546
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2021 Dr Isaac Abe, Dr Virimai Mugobo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.