At its meeting on 11 April 2022, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Council received an overview of progress in Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies at the institution the past decade from Prof Eugene Cloete, whose second term as Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible for this portfolio will come to an end on 31 July.
Structuring his report around the six strategic focus areas that he started out with in 2012, he concluded that the University has basically been doubled the past ten years:
New multidisciplinary research entities
- SU now has six centres of excellence – the largest number of any university in the country.
- Two ground-breaking, interdisciplinary, cross-faculty entities have been established, namely the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, and the School for Climate Studies.
- Along with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), SU now hosts the AUDA–NEPAD Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation, which is the only one of its kind in South Africa.
Extension of innovation
- An innovation ecosystem based on excellent research has developed at SU, with Innovus at its centre, the SU division that is responsible for technology transfer as well as comprehensive entrepreneurial support and development.
- Over the period 2009–2021, SU produced the most patent applications in South Africa in terms of the Patent Cooperation Treaty– 143 in total – outperforming all other universities, research councils as well as private companies.
- SU currently has 29 spin-out companies in its group of companies. This is not only the highest number of any university in the country, but has been done at a more cost-effective rate than at other universities internationally.
Promotion of research outputs
- SU's first-rate Library and Information Service continues to go from strength to strength, providing comprehensive services across digital and physical environments to support and advance research at the University.
- SU's Central Analytic Facilities, which offer analytical expertise to science, medicine and engineering students and researchers, have acquired some of the most advanced equipment over the past three years at a cost of approximately R175 million.
- The new Biomedical Research Institute at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on our Tygerberg campus is nearing completion. This advanced facility, constructed at a cost of more than R1 billion, will eventually house 1 000 researchers.
- SU's weighted research outputs (publications as well as master's and doctoral degrees) have nearly doubled over the past decade – from 2 200 units in 2012 to 4 000 in 2021.
Development of human resources
- The number of research chairs and centres of excellence at SU have nearly quadrupled over the past ten years – from 16 in 2012 to 60 in 2021. These include 26 SARChI chairs (the South African Research Chairs Initiative), among the highest number of any university in the country.
- SU researchers with a National Research Foundation (NRF) rating have also increased substantially – from 309 in 2012 to 492 in 2021.
- The number of postdoctoral fellows has more than doubled, from 154 in 2012 to 321 in 2021. And the Consolidoc programme now has more than 100 participants.
- SU is an active participant in two initiatives of the Department of Higher Education and Training to help the country 'grow its own timber' in terms of research capacity, namely the Next Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP) and the Future Professors Programme.
Postgraduate student training
- When funding for postgraduate studies started to come under pressure in 2019, SU invested R120 million in postgraduate bursaries, representing the largest contribution of its kind in the history of the institution.
- SU has a very high output of postgraduate qualifications, with 1 494 master's degrees and 311 doctoral degrees awarded in the 2021 academic year – 48% of which went to generically black students.
- SU's third-stream income (from research contracts) has nearly doubled over the past decade, from R576 million in 2012 to R1,22 billion in 2021, of which 75% was derived from international sources. This contributes to the institutional goal of financial sustainability and shows that the University is globally recognised.
Council unanimously adopted a motion to congratulate and thank Prof Cloete for his two successful terms, stating: “He leaves behind a healthy portfolio and did tremendous work to establish an outstanding, leading research-intensive university, to develop important partnerships and, at the same time, to further expand postgraduate studies as an important sustainable building block to support this."
Prof Cloete thanked current and former colleagues throughout the institution for their contributions, emphasising that it has been a team effort.
He intends returning to the SU Water Institute, of which he was the founding director, and also to collaborate with SU's schools for Climate Studies as well as Data Science and Computational Thinking.
IMAGE ABOVE: Photograph by David Harrison; Banner design by Whitney Prins