/ 9 September 2009

Top researchers honoured

The National Research Foundation (NRF) is the custodian of one of the world’s most intensive peer review systems in academic research.

Managed under the rubric of its Knowledge Management and Evaluation directorate, the NRF uses the evaluation and rating system to nurture scholarship and grow the country’s research capacity.

‘Measuring oneself against the best in the world is the only benchmark for a science system that aspires to become globally competitive,” says NRF president and chief executive Albert van Jaarsveld.

The evaluation and rating system reinforces the importance of internationally competitive research and stimulates healthy competition between researchers and research institutions.

The system recognises researchers who produce quality research results and remain internationally competitive.

Statistics show that 75% of all International Science Index (ISI) – listed research publications supported through the NRF were carried out by NRF-rated researchers. It is also compelling that 75% of graduate students the NRF supported were supervised by NRF-rated researchers.

Van Jaarsveld says that several higher-education institutions use the results of the NRF evaluation and rating process to position themselves as research-intensive institutions and to recruit more research leaders.

Others use it as a tool and an incentive to develop research staff. Peer review systems are common-place in academia.

Discipline-specific academic bodies in particular are noted for their internal rating, award and acknowledgement systems.

Over a period of almost two decades the NRF rating system has evolved into a highly credible measure of research quality.

The system is not without criticism and undergoes intensive periodic reviews to ensure that it can be benchmarked against the best in the world.

The rating system provides for A, B and C categories with sub-categories as well as recognition for young researchers, those with demonstrated potential, as well as late entrants into the research system.

In order to obtain an ‘A” rating researchers must be ‘unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs”.

This elite category comprises just 78 researchers from among the close on 2 000 NRF-rated researchers. A ‘P” rating is assigned to younger researchers (normally under 35 years of age) who have held a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application and who, ‘on the basis of exceptional potential demonstrated in their published doctoral work and/or their research outputs in their early post-doctoral careers, are considered likely to become future leaders in their field”. There are also three categories of special recognition awards.

The Champion of Transformation in Research recognises an individual whose efforts have contributed to the transformation of the research community and landscape. This includes discovering research talent and potential in people from designated groups as well as nurturing and moulding that talent to achieve world-class research performance.

The President’s Award for Transformation of the Science Cohort was designed to recognise an individual who has played an outstanding role in addressing the challenges of getting more women and black scientists to advance to world-class research performance.

The Lifetime Achievement accolade first introduced in 2004 recognises an individual considered to have made ‘an extraordinary contribution to the development of science in and for South Africa”, whose contribution is considered to be of international standard and impact.

The NRF President’s Awards were presented at a special ceremony at the Gallagher Conference Centre on Tuesday September 1.