From left: Top Published Researcher, Professor
Johannes van Staden; Professor Urmilla Bob; Top
Published Female Researcher, Professor Colleen
Downs and Professor Nelson Ijumba.

The volume of research completed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) last year was the highest in the Institution’s history, according to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Nelson Ijumba.

Speaking at the University’s Annual Research Awards dinner at the Maharani Hotel in Durban, Ijumba said 2012 and 2013 had been one of the most successful periods for UKZN research endeavours and thanked all the researchers for their “hard work and commitment”.

Research productivity and the number of published peer-reviewed journal articles in 2012 were 15 percent higher than in the previous year.

‘The proportion of publishing staff increased from 81 percent to 89 percent and the output by each individual from 60 to 73 productivity units.  In 2012 about 13 percent of all lecturers had PhDs and the proportion of professors with doctorates was 83 percent – an improvement from 12 percent for lecturers and 74 percent for professors in 2011.’

He also spoke about institutional initiatives such as the significant increase in the number of postdoctoral scholars, and the winning of the bid by UKZN to host the hub for the DST/NRF Centre of Indigenous Knowledge Systems

On national achievements he highlighted the increase in the number of SARChI Chairs from eight  to 11, an increase in the number of rated researchers, the Department of Science and Technology awards made to UKZN’s women researchers and the honour of having two researchers awarded the prestigious Order of the Mapungubwe.

UKZN had surpassed expectations in the international arena being listed in the four major world university rankings in 2012 and this year. It was now in the Top 400 in the Times Higher Education Listings; in the Top 500 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, in the Top 600 in the Quacquarelli Symonds rankings and UKZN had been listed as the top University in Africa in the Webometrics rankings.

‘We have restored self-belief in our researchers. In the past not everyone thought we could get to where we are now.’

He took particular pride in UKZN’s achievement in meeting transformation goals. ‘We have shattered the myth that transformation can’t go hand in hand with research excellence – we have increased the number of women, youth and Black researchers, and we need to congratulate ourselves for that.’

UKZN’s proportion of women published researchers was now 43 percent compared to 37 percent at the time of the merger in 2004 while the number of Black African researchers had increased from 8 percent to 12 percent and there were 40 percent more Black researchers, up from 32 percent.

Ijumba commended UKZN’s new initiatives such as UKZN InQubate which had made great strides in driving innovation.

Commenting on goals for the future, he said the University needed to broaden its base of academics involved in research.

Keynote speaker, Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO, RISA (Research and Innovation Support and Advancement) of the National Research Foundation of South Africa, congratulated all the researchers and highlighted some of UKZN’s great research endeavours over the last decade.

‘In the Times rankings, UKZN is in the top 400, you are ranked as the third best producing university in the country, you have 1 242 active researchers, and you were able to successfully complete the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems. You also increased your number of post doctorates and your publication record is exceptional – you must be congratulated for that, it comes through sheer hard work and dedication and of course the leadership that is provided by the people within the University.’

Pillay raised questions on the impact of the research produced. ‘How does it inform teaching and learning? How does it impact on poverty? Is your research an economic driver for job creation? I raise these questions because we need to infuse excellence with relevance – how does research help society?’

A highlight of the evening was the launch of the 2012 Research Report by the Dean of Research, Professor Urmilla Bob. ‘We as UKZN are one of the research led universities in South Africa and embrace as well as promote transformation, African scholarship and relevance,’ said Bob, who described the  Research Report as a ‘celebration and a documentation of the research achievement of the research community at UKZN’.

Several researchers received national and international awards in recognition of their contributions to research.

The Director of the Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development, Professor Johannes van Staden was recognised as UKZN’s Top Published Researcher in 2012 while biologist and terrestrial vertebrate specialist Professor Colleen Downs was the most Published Woman Researcher.

Downs received the award for the fifth consecutive year and van Staden, for the fourth time.

The 2012 UKZN Fellows were Professor Peter Dankelmann of Mathematical Sciences, Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda of Chemistry and Professor Gerald Ortmann of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness.

The 2012 Fellows of the South African Academy of Engineers were Professor Nelson Ijumba and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation, Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath.

Also acknowledged were the 2011 book prize winners, the recent DST Women in Science award winners and UKZN’s Top 30 published researchers.