Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 11

Crossing the borders between disciplines
The reaction against the hard-wiring of universities
to disciplinary research has gained increasing
momentum since 2004, when the US National
Academies released their report Facilitating
Interdisciplinary Research. As evidence mounts that
the really big questions facing the world – climate
change, energy, poverty and disease – will only find
answers if they are not approached with a narrow
perspective, UCT has responded to this international
trend, first by launching five interdisciplinary
initiatives in 2007 – labelled Signature Themes: the
African Centre for Cities, the Drug Discovery and
Development Centre (H3D), the Minerals to Metals
Research Centre, the Brain and Behaviour Initiative,
and the Marine Research Institute (Ma-Re); secondly,
in 2009, by launching a number of Vice-Chancellor’s
Initiatives, aimed at interdisciplinary solutions to
the most important challenges facing our country:
the African Climate and Development Initiative
(ACDI), the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII),
the Safety and Violence Initiative (SAVI) and the
Schools Improvement Initiative (SII); and thirdly, in
2015, by launching five new interdisciplinary institutes
(Neuroscience, Future Water, Human–Wildlife, Safety
Governance, and Democracy, Citizenship and Public
Policy in Africa).
Meanwhile, a university research committee (URC)
task team on inter- and transdisciplinarity has made
good progress in working on proposals for improved
governance and funding of interdisciplinary research.
Erasing borders between countries
In our Research Strategy 2015 to 2025 we affirm the
central importance of international co-operation in the
production of high-impact research; and to this end, we
have both supported existing bottom-up international
linkages of researchers and research groupings, and
judiciously extended our networks on the continent
and further afield to create opportunities for new
collaborative work. In both instances, we have been
open to the world, but especially mindful that we want
to be open to our own continent to give expression to
our Afropolitan vision.
For example, we have negotiated joint doctorates in a
number of areas to further strengthen existing bonds;
we have championed three-cornered partnerships
between ourselves, our African partners and our joint
partners in the global north; and we have worked
with a large number of our researchers to enter into
agreements that empower their research efforts.
We are a member of various networks, the principal
examples being the Worldwide Universities Network
(WUN), an active, global network concentrating on
enabling research; the African Research Universities
Alliance (ARUA), a network of 16 African universities
created to advocate for the strengthening of research
and postgraduate training on the continent; and
the International Alliance of Research Universities
(IARU), a network of 11 research universities spread
out across the world, working together to improve
all aspects of their performance. In order to be more
effective in our service delivery, we have increasingly
combined the efforts of the International Academic
Programmes Office (IAPO) and the Research Office
in order to align our international partnerships with
our research mission.
In 2010, we began creating an office of research
integrity. We rewrote all the policies on research ethics
in an extensive consultative process, and the Office of
Research Integrity (ORI) was established and a director
appointed. Through the tremendous efforts of its interim
director in 2010 and 2011, and thereafter through its first
director, this office has lifted the standard of compliance
with ethical standards to a wholly new level.
Universities constantly produce a rich stream of ideas
and discoveries; more and more, universities recognise
the importance of inspiring their researchers to see
that often, the excitement of having a novel idea or
making a groundbreaking discovery can be matched
by finding the means to apply that idea, either for
the benefit of society or as a business enterprise.
Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit has therefore
become a serious part of what universities do – and
UCT has embraced this new way of thinking.
The Research Contracts and Innovation department
(RC&I) has steadily expanded its operations: liaising
with external bodies (such as the National Intellectual
Property Management Office and the Technology
Innovation Agency); informing, mentoring and
supporting inventors and innovators; stimulating
commercialisation through active advice, early
funding and assistance in seeking external funding;
and communicating commercialisation opportunities,
through publications such as the annual Innovation at
UCT report and the ‘Café Scientifique’ talk series. We
have also established an Institute of Design Thinking
(d-School), funded by the Hasso Plattner Foundation,
along the lines of the d-Schools at Stanford and
Potsdam universities. Its purpose is to instil creative
thinking, by bringing people from different disciplines
together and giving them (as the Stanford Design
Institute puts it) “spectacularly transformative learning
experiences … to develop a process for producing
creative solutions to even the most complex
challenges they tackle”.

Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research Facilitating Interdisciplinary ResearchAfrican Centre for Cities Drug Discovery and Development Centre Drug Discovery and Development Centre Minerals to Metals Research Centre Brain and Behaviour Initiative Marine Research Institute African Climate and Development Initiative Poverty and Inequality Initiative Safety and Violence InitiativeSchools Improvement InitiativeinstitutesWorldwide Universities Network International Alliance of Research Universities International Academic Programmes Office International Academic Programmes OfficeResearch Office Office of Research Integrity Office of Research IntegrityResearch Contracts and Innovation Innovation at UCTInnovation at UCTInstitute of Design Thinking

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