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Monitoring & Evaluation

 

Enhancing the quality of research in South Africa
Evaluation and rating

The history of the evaluation and rating system

The history of support for research in universities goes back to 1942 when General Jan Smuts began developing a vision for a national research body in South Africa. In 1945 Parliament passed a bill to establish the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – Dr Basil Schonland was its first President. Fostering research in universities through grants and bursaries was an item on the agenda of the first council meeting.

When Dr Stefan Meiring Naudé became President of the CSIR in 1952, he introduced specialised university committees to evaluate applications and allocate funds. Meiring Naudé’s successor, Dr Chris Brink, created the University Research Division and introduced the concept of Cooperative Scientific Programmes (CSP) to promote goal-orientated research designed to solve problems of critical national importance. Dr Chris Garbers took over as President of the CSIR in May 1980, and the CSIR subsequently appointed Dr Reinhard Arndt as Vice-President with executive responsibility for the University Grants Division and the CSP.

In the early 1980s there was a perception among research scientists at universities and museums that the funding available to support research was being ‘spread too thinly’ – many researchers seemed to have too little funding for their needs; although some seemed to have too much. The allocation of funds did not seem to be based solely on clearly defined and agreed upon criteria. To place national research funding on a more secure footing, Garbers and Arndt co-opted Prof Jack de Wet, retired dean of science at the University of Cape Town, to investigate options for research funding in higher education and to advise the CSIR.

As a result of De Wet’s recommendations, the Main Research Support Programme and the Cooperative Scientific Programmes were combined to form the CSIR Foundation for Research Development (FRD) in 1984, headed by Arndt. In 1990 the FRD became an independent body with Arndt as its President.

It was decided by Arndt and De Wet that the most important criteria researchers would have to comply with to access FRD funding would be the quality of their research and of their research students. The FRD would invest its money in people with a track record of doing good research. This led to a novel concept of peer evaluation and the rating of individual researchers in higher education, based on their recent track records and outputs in research. Their level of support was exponentially linked to this rating. The system was widely acclaimed, attracting favourable international comment.

Early on it became evident that evaluation could only be done by individuals accepted by the applicants and the broader community as peers who are actively involved in the relevant field of research. A large number of leading researchers, many of them outside the country’s borders, became involved in adjudicating the quality of the research outputs of South African researchers. Many were pleased to be part of this novel approach to research funding. More than 24 000 local and foreign researchers have participated as reviewers. More than 4000 applicants have been evaluated; some of them once, others on several occasions.

In April 1999, the FRD and the Centre for Science Development (CSD) were united into a new organisation, the National Research Foundation (NRF). The NRF’s first President, Dr Khotso Mokhele, was appointed in July 1999.

Prof Mzamo Mangaliso was appointed as NRF President in 2006. During this year the review of the rating system was instituted as the result of the recommendation of the Institutional Review of the NRF undertaken during 2005. The result of the review is available at (hyperlink to be inserted)

From 1984 to 2001 the evaluation and rating system applied only to scientists in the natural sciences, engineering and technology. In June 2001 the NRF Board approved the rating of all researchers and an evaluation and rating system for researchers in the social sciences and humanities was introduced in 2002. The eligibility of medical scientists in the evaluation and rating system was problematic and ambivalent in the past. Medical scientists are supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) but some medical scientists whose research overlaps with the natural sciences were, and are, supported by the FRD (now NRF). Medical researchers involved only in clinical trials were neither rated nor supported by the FRD. While clinical research will still not be supported by the NRF, the NRF will accept applications for evaluation and rating from researchers in the clinical medical research field.

 

Last updated on 24 July2007