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Applying for URC accreditation

In order to formalise their status, research groupings must be accredited by the University Research Committee (URC). Research groupings can apply for either three-year or five-year accreditation status. Emerging research groupings (i.e. groups in the early stages of development) generally apply for three-year research-grouping accreditation, provided the application meets all accreditation criteria (see below). The research grouping must provide motivation for active research collaboration following accreditation. Additionally, all accredited research groupings are subject to a five-year review in order to maintain their status.

Categories of accreditation

Five-year accreditation

Groupings with five-year accreditation meet all the criteria as set out in section 4 of the guidelines and undergo external peer-review once every five years.

Three-year accreditation (developmental model)

‘Developmental’ groupings may be considered for three-year accreditation if they do not yet meet all accreditation criteria relevant to the group’s definition, but aspire to meet a clearly articulated strategic goal. Such groupings are reviewed in the final six months of the first three years. This review is internal and would focus on the productivity of the group as measured against the criteria for the level of grouping, as well as against its proposed strategic goal. If supported, the research grouping would convert to the five-year accreditation cycle. Alternatively, its accreditation will be withdrawn.

Benefits of accreditation

Accredited status strengthens the identity and branding of the grouping, and provides an officially recognised platform for collaboration. The URC funds the external peer-review process that takes place every five years, which provides an opportunity for self-reflection and showcasing as well as hosting two world-renowned scholars in the relevant field. The review also places the grouping on the Faculty radar and requires the dean to position the review report in the context of the Faculty’s own planning and budget.

It should be noted that accredited research groupings derive no direct financial benefit from the URC and are expected to raise their own funds through research grants and contracts. Deans are encouraged to consider the needs of their accredited groupings in their Faculty plans, as research is central to Faculty identity. Infrastructure and administrative support must be negotiated with the host Faculty. In the case of cross faculty groupings, support may be jointly negotiated.

In addition, groupings that have been reviewed in the past year and achieved positive reports (including groupings accredited by the South African Medical Research Council) are invited to bid for a postdoctoral fellowship on a competitive basis. Four to five such fellowships are made available annually, on condition of URC funding being available.

Types of research groupings

Research groupings must take into consideration whether they meet the criterial of a unit, centre or institute in order to apply for the relevant accreditation status.

Five year accreditation

  Research Unit Research Centre Research Institute
Research mandate A focused research mandate that largely lies within one discipline. A broad research mandate that may span across disciplines or rest with one discipline. A broad research mandate (with wide ranging research questions) that spans across disciplines.

Management structure and governance

(See Appendix 5 for Governance of University Institutes established through a top down, executive-driven process.)

A defined management structure with a director.

Hosted by the department of the Director, and affiliated to faculty.

Administrative support typically provided by the host department.

Operational and financial decisions overseen by HOD.

Reports to the URC through the HoD, with approval by the Dean.

A formal management structure with a director and researchers with agreed management roles.

Hosted by either the Department or Faculty of the Director, as appropriate to the breadth of research mandate.  If hosted by a department, will be affiliated to the department’s faculty.

Will typically have an advisory or steering committee, convened by the Dean of the host Department/Faculty.

May have different membership categories based on proportion of time committed to Centre activities (e.g. Full, Associate, Affiliate, Adjunct).

Administrative support provided by host department or faculty.

Operational and financial decisions overseen by HOD or Dean, depending on hosting arrangements.

Reports to the URC via HoD or Dean, depending on hosting arrangement.

A formal management structure with a director and several established researchers and academic staff with agreed management roles.

Hosted by a Faculty within which the Institute has a critical mass of membership. 

Governed by an advisory board, usually comprising a mix of internal and external members, chaired by the DVC for Research.

Typically has a management committee, made up of senior academic and operational staff.

Typically, will have different membership categories based on proportion of time committed to Centre activities (e.g. Full, Associate, Affiliate, Adjunct).

Has dedicated administrative and technical support staff (where relevant) provided through Institute resourcing.

Has dedicated administrative and technical support staff (where relevant), provided through Institute resourcing.

Reports to the URC via the DVC for Research.
Minimum core team staffing requirements

One permanent academic staff member who is the director.

A team of researchers, who may include other permanent and contract academic and research staff, as well as postdocs and research students.

More than two permanent academic staff members of whom one must be the director.

One or more teams of researchers, who may include other permanent and contract academic and research staff, as well as postdocs and research students.

Five or more academic staff members of whom one must be the director.

Several teams of researchers, each of which may include other permanent and contract academic and research staff, as well as postdocs and research students.

Team credentials and requirements

The director should hold a PhD and should be an established research scholar.

Possibly limited institutional collaborations. Members who belong to other accredited groupings must produce distinct bodies of work to qualify as members of more than one grouping.

The director should have considerable international standing.

Research time must include collaborative research that contributes to the wider agenda of the Centre, but will typically also include disciplinary research that provides the foundations for the overall research agenda.

The director should be a distinguished international researcher.

Team leaders should have considerable international standing.

Expected collaborations* beyond the research grouping itself

Collaborations beyond the grouping within and outside UCT are encouraged, but not essential.

Membership of more than one Unit must undertake research that aligns distinctly with the agenda of each grouping.

Outputs should be reported against the most relevant grouping, unless there is clear justification for dual attribution.

Extensive and relevant institutional, national and international collaborations.

Membership of more than one Centre must undertake research that aligns distinctly with the agenda of each grouping.

Outputs should be reported against the most relevant grouping, unless there is clear justification for dual attribution.

 

Extensive and relevant institutional, national and international collaborations.

Membership of more than one Institute must undertake research that aligns distinctly with the agenda of each grouping.

Outputs should be reported against the most relevant grouping, unless there is clear justification for dual attribution.

Engaged scholarship

The application should explicitly state whether, and if so, how the research agenda of the grouping will respond to societal needs – especially locally.

Commitment to stakeholder engagement already at conceptual stage of projects is recommended.

The application should explicitly state whether, and if so, how the research agenda of the grouping will respond to societal needs – especially locally.

Commitment to stakeholder engagement already at conceptual stage of projects is recommended.

The application should explicitly state whether, and if so, how the research agenda of the grouping will respond to societal needs – especially locally.

Commitment to stakeholder engagement already at conceptual stage of projects is recommended.

*The term collaborations should be widely widely interpreted. It could range from informal networking and demonstrated cognisance of other knowledge areas, to full-scale extensive research collaborations and co-authored publications.

 

Application and Approval Process for Accreditation as a Research Grouping

The applicant needs to ensure that the Application Check-List for Accreditation Proposals (available from the Research Office) is completed.

The applicant submits the application via the relevant head of department to the dean for endorsement.

Should the dean endorse the application, he/she has to provide the URC with a brief motivation on why and how the Faculty would support the grouping.

The endorsed application is sent to the Research Office, for tabling at the URC.

  • URC assesses the application against set criteria. The URC has the right (in consultation with the research grouping and associated dean) to reclassify the application to the appropriate category should this be required.
  • The research grouping, head of department and dean are informed of the outcome of the application. If the proposal is supported by the URC, a summary of the application is tabled at SEC for their endorsement; and then published in the next Principal’s Circular for information.

If the proposal is supported by the URC, a summary of the application is tabled at SEC for their endorsement; and then published in the next Principal’s Circular for information.

 

Guidelines for accredited research groupings

Applications for the URC accreditation of research groupings require sign-off by the relevant head(s) of department and dean(s) in terms of the proposed grouping's location and administrative home. The dean should endorse the application, and provide a brief motivation on why and how the Faculty would support the grouping.

Download the guidelines.

Accreditation assessment criteria

A proposal for establishing a research grouping will be assessed against the following criteria

  1. Strategic gain

It is common practice for researchers to collaborate loosely across a range of cognate projects and fields. What is the strategic gain of formalising such activity under the umbrella of an accredited research grouping?

  1. Research agenda

How well is the grouping's research agenda defined, with a set of on-going projects that are inter-linked or focused around a common theme? Are the broad timelines and team responsibilities appropriately articulated?

  1. Core research team and linkages to other research groupings or networks

Are these linkages clearly defined and articulated? Members who belong to other accredited groupings must produce distinct bodies of work to qualify as members of more than one grouping except where units / centres are embedded in an Institute. In the latter case, the outputs may be claimed both by the unit / centre and by the Institute under which the unit / centre falls.

  1. Non-financial support

Are the required infrastructural resources readily available and accessible e.g. space, support staff, equipment?

  1. Current financial viability

Does the proposed grouping have current financial viability in terms of operational costs, human capital development resources and infrastructural support?

  1. Future sustainability 

Is there a clear three-year budget forecast to enable sustainability in terms of staffing and operating costs?

  1. Quality of collaborative research outputs

Is there good evidence of generating quality research in relation to the research agenda over the past 3-5 years as a collective group? The quality of the research activities is reflected in measurable outputs such as accredited, peer-reviewed publications; funding generated through grants and / or contracts; throughput of postgraduate students and the registration of patents. Engaged scholarship as it relates to the research must be in evidence. Note: Groupings that are able to meet this criterion on accreditation immediately enter the five-year cycle, which means they will be reviewed five years after being accredited. The review panel includes expert-peers external to UCT.  

OR

If the above collaboration and outputs are not yet in place – Is there a clearly articulated strategic goal for the (developmental) accreditation of the grouping? Has the application clearly motivated why and how such collaboration will occur and what the envisaged collective outputs will be in relation to the proposed research agenda, if granted accreditation?

Note: Groupings in this category that achieve three-year accreditation will be reviewed in the final six months of the first three years by an internal panel to assess evidence of a collaborative body of work that resulted from the three-year accreditation. If satisfactory, the grouping enters the five-year review cycle, as above. If not, the grouping’s three-year accreditation is withdrawn.

  1. Human Capital Development

Is there evidence of current postgraduate student participation in the grouping? AND is there evidence of a proactive student recruitment strategy?

  1. Equity and redress

Is there a development plan, if appropriate, to assure transformation in terms of equity imperatives?

  1. Governance structure

Is there evidence of an effective governance structure to monitor activities and initiate improvements?

  1. Engaged scholarship

To what extent will the grouping’s research translate into alleviating problems locally, in the region, the country or on the continent? 

      l. Visibility

Does the grouping have a clear plan on how it will enhance its visibility in the public domain?

  1. Proposal eligibility

Does the proposal appropriately address the nomenclature guidelines of a ‘Unit’, ‘Centre’ or ‘Institute’? The purpose of the nomenclature guidelines is to assure internal consistency as well as alignment with international good practice. The URC will exercise discretion where a change in nomenclature would impinge on the branding strategy or established reputation of a grouping that is already fully operational.