Higher education institutions in South Africa are strategically driven to develop the highest standards of research, as the reputation and recognition of these institutions lie in their ability to generate new knowledge of high impact and relevance.

The University of the Free State (UFS) has made sound progress in the past ten years in terms of shifting its research development from an administrative to a strategic function, and in accelerating efforts to place research at the core of all academic activity.

However, its ranking in ninth position on the National Higher Education Ranking system illustrates the ongoing challenge the university faces in identifying and exploiting its competitive advantage and niche in a highly competitive environment, and in meeting changing market demands by developing new products, delivering and organising products in new ways and finding novel ways to tap old and new resources.

The UFS 2015 – 2022 research strategy aims to address these challenges through providing an institutional framework to drive the next phase of research development at the university.

The Research Strategy is driven by the Mission of the UFS. At its core, the strategy seeks to promote relevant elements of the Mission:

  • Setting the highest standards for undergraduate and postgraduate education
  • Recruiting the best and most diverse students and professors into the University
  • Advancing excellence in the scholarship of research, teaching and public service
  • Promoting innovation, distinctiveness and leadership in both academic and human pursuits
  • Establishing transparent opportunities in lifelong learning for academic and support staff

The Strategy also has the UFS Strategic Plan as a foundation, which identifies three key performance areas: The Academic Project, the Human Project and the Support Services Foundation.

The UFS has taken tremendous strides in terms of the Human Project. Looking forward, the University will be required to carefully plan the further development of the Academic Project.

The Academic Project aims to enhance the general academic advancement of the university, and also specifically aims at developing research excellence through, inter alia, expecting academics to remain at the forefront of their disciplines, to become (or remain) internationally recognised experts in their fields, to publish scholarly work in the top journals of their disciplines and to enable them to train the next generation of professionals. Various systems, regulations and policies have been put in place to ensure that the aims of the Academic Project are met, including the Academic Promotion Policy, regulations regarding NRF ratings and minimum research output requirements.

In order to further the aims of the Academic Plan, the university has identified the following key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets for research:

  • Improving international research excellence, impact and visibility through research development of staff.
  • Developing research focus areas that will be recognised nationally and internationally for excellence.
  • Developing information-based governance structures to support research activities.
  • Successfully incentivising research activities to increase productivity.
  • Successfully supporting and developing innovative research into commercialisation.

The UFS Research Strategy 2015 was developed around the aforementioned aims. 

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