Research Directorate and NRF take major steps to empower female researchers

Dr Jordaan, left, standing, with female colleagues that attended the workshop on 1 October 2021, off campus. Dr Mienie is third from left, standing

At national level, the contribution of women to university article output has only increased by 6% since 2005 to 2019. This was only due to a 7% increase in the proportion of female academic staff appointments.  In addition, there is a scarcity of Black African, Coloured and Indian/Asian women professors in South Africa. The obstacles that prevent women’s attainment of professorship is one of the reasons for the scarcity of women professors. This leads to women in higher education institutions becoming discouraged and eventually leaving. More importantly, women play a dual role in society both as professionals and homemakers.   The dual role has an impact on the amount of research by female academics. Other limiting factors for research productivity of female staff include high teaching loads, funding, lack of infrastructure, access to specialised equipment, and, of course,  family obligations. Also the fact that transformation within tertiary institutions is taking place at a slower pace with women still being underrepresented at the top, senior and academic positions while male counterparts dominate in the higher-ranking academic positions, do not help matters. Interventions are therefore, needed to bridge the disparity in research contribution of female to male staff.

These reasons have resulted in the National Research Foundation (NRF) inviting  MUT to participate in the Customised Intervention Grant, aimed at enabling this transformation process with the goal of increasing the number of black (African, Coloured, Indian/Asian) female researchers with an NRF rating at Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs).

Dr Maryam Amra Jordaan, the NRF Administrator at MUT’s Research Directorate, said the purpose of the NRF rating system is to provide an internationally benchmarked system of evaluating and rating researchers as the DHET framework promotes the quality of research outputs. This rating provides credibility to researchers and attracts funding opportunities, not only from the NRF, but from other funding entities advancing the female researchers’ readiness for the professoriate, while imparting cutting-edge skills to the next generation of researchers.

Dr Jordaan was the champion of the Customised Intervention Grant to identify the needs and provide interventions of early career female researchers at MUT.  An oversight committee comprising of seasoned UKZN NRF-rated academic Professor Urmilla Bob, MUT’s own C-rated scientist, Dr Reshma Subbaye from the DIPR, MUT’s research veteran, and Lecturer in the Department of nature Conservation, Professor Georgina Arthur, as well as Director of the Research directorate, Dr Anette Mienie, was established to oversee all activities,  and develop terms of reference (ToR) for the grant.   The Customised Intervention Grant allowed for the hosting of workshops and networking sessions.  The last session was hosted on 1 October 2021, off campus. The guest speaker, Joyce Olivier (NRF Rating Programme) provided advice on NRF Rating applications.