Staff and student perceptions of research structures and services provided by the faculty research offices at a university of technology in South Africa
MetadataShow full item record
The higher education landscape in South Africa has undergone significant change and transformation in recent decades, obliging all higher education institutions to be more competitive and provide services of quality to attract and retain students. Since their emergence as universities in the years of 2003-2004 Universities of Technology (UoTs) have been required to engage in research and to improve research output and throughput rapidly despite having their roots in a former colonial and apartheid era in which they were required to play a purely technical role. Importantly, the government funding formula for universities in South Africa is now the same for all public universities (based on publications and throughput) even though traditional universities were always research-oriented. This makes it likely that UoTs will continue to lag behind traditional universities if drastic measures to increase research capacity are not put in place. In order to service the provision of this sustainable research output different measures and research structures have therefore been designed by UoTs to support the increasing pressure to produce M and DTech graduates and upgrade the qualifications of teaching staff. The purpose of this study was therefore to investigate the administrative support of research services and structures at faculty level at a selected UoT; to provide insights in terms of staff and student perceptions of postgraduate support and to make recommendations as to how to enhance existing research services and improve research structures to support research functions. The study was a case study of a selected UoT. It used mixed method research to enable the researcher to collect both qualitative and quantitative data from academics and M and DTech students and Faculty Research Office staff members. Questionnaires and interviews were used as data collection instruments. Supported by the Gap Model of service quality and delivery and an adapted SERVQUAL instrument, the study sought to determine staff and postgraduate students' perceptions and expectations of research structures and service quality across four dimensions, namely reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy. Analysis of the data revealed that Faculty Research Offices across each of the six faculties were lacking in certain respects in providing research support and development in each of the four identified service dimensions. They were particularly lacking in terms of communicating the nature and details of the research support services they offer. The study concluded that with improved research structures and more skilled personnel all research activities could be incorporated and be facilitated by Faculty Research Offices, taking these functions away from departmental research committees where these exist. It also concluded that by communicating these research services through faculty orientations, workshop sessions, and online forums, academics and students' awareness would be enhanced. This could also have a positive impact on handling research matters and processes, improving the reliability of the research office services and allowing students to associate with the research office on a more regular basis. This study therefore recommended that the identified quality gaps should be attended to in order to improve research services. Further, issues of research capacity development and support and service quality need to be urgently considered by the institution in order in the longer term to be in a position to improve enrolment and graduation rates, increase scholarly publications and contribute to the knowledge society. Inviting research experts and drawing on the greater experience and expertise of their Australian counterparts in the ATN network (with whom SA UoTs have a formal MoU) could lead to further research and development in the area investigated. This should go a long way in ensuring progress and growth in research output within the faculties of the institution investigated and could be of interest to other UoTs facing similar challenges.