The core activities for academics in universities are teaching, research and community service. While most academics find teaching and community service comparatively easy, research usually poses big challenges for many.
In their promotion procedures, for example, many academics usually score high marks on teaching and community service, but when it comes to research and publications, they score low marks because of the dearth of meaningful research output in their portfolios. Research output comprises mainly research articles, books, book chapters, and publications in conference proceedings.
Taking the rigours of research and the back-and-forth process associated with peer-reviewed journals and book publishing, many academics end up frustrated and fail to fulfil the research output expectations of their universities. This is despite the fact that the mainstay of academia is research.
Generally, the research they should undertake can be classified as fundamental research, action research, applied research, quantitative research, and qualitative research. It is the quality and volumes of the research that academics produce that make universities prestigious.
Quality research plays a crucial role in the rankings or league of universities continentally and globally. Therefore, universities demand their academics to produce research that has significant impact and relevance in society – research that provides solutions to a myriad of problems that bedevil society.
In a bid to enhance the research productivity of academics, the Global Academy of Liberal Arts (GALA) has selected 16 early career researchers from four African universities to benefit from an intensive training and mentorship programme whose aim is to make them more productive in terms of their research output. Partnering universities in GALA are: Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia; Bath Spa University, UK; Claremont Graduate University, USA; Columbia College, Chicago, USA; Concordia University, Canada; Communications University of China, China; Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Kenya; National Institute of Design, India; Russian Presidential ACADEMY of National Economy and Public Administration, Russia; SUNY Geneseo, USA; SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland; University of Adelaide, Australia;
University College Roosevelt, The Netherlands; University College Utrecht, The Netherlands; University of Namibia: University of Parma, Italy; University of Udine, Italy; the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands; and University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. In essence, GALA is “an international community of diverse, innovative, and socially responsible universities and colleges, whose aims are to transform lives and to enhance global understanding through interdisciplinary collaboration in teaching and research” in higher education.
The 16 early career researchers who are in this mentoring and writing workshop programme are lectures from the University of Namibia, the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, University of Witwatersrand and Addis Ababa University. This project is funded by the British Academy’s Writing Workshops Programme, supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. The British Academy is the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences – the study of peoples, cultures and societies, past, present and future.
In order to qualify for selection, the participating academics had to submit written concepts of the researches they want to undertake as they receive mentorship focused on these research areas.
The mentorship is provided by vastly experienced distinguished professors in humanities and social sciences who have track records for coaching early career researchers and supervising doctoral and postdoctoral students.
These professors have gone through the mill themselves, and have traversed the research and publication journey judiciously throughout their academic lives.
At the end of the mentorship programme by the end of the year, the 16 early career researchers should each be able to produce a publishable article to be published in a reputable peer-reviewed academic journal. To raise the standard of research and writing of articles, the researchers have to publish their articles in journals with high impact factors.
It is further the mentorship programme’s goals to impart research and analytical skills to the participants so that they can use these skills in other researches they will undertake after the training. This programme also assists participants and their mentors to evaluate and rethink research and higher education in a continuously changing society, especially in the 4th and 5th industrial revolutions. Equally important is the formation of a strong cadre of 16 scholars who are expected to foster an environment conducive to undertaking collaborative and multidisciplinary researches across the borders of their countries.
Hence, the research mentoring programme also performs the function of the internationalisation of higher education.
All these goals are in tandem with the theme of the mentorship programme, which is ‘Developing interdisciplinary voices among Africa’s newest researchers in humanities and social sciences’.
In summary, the mentorship programme will help early career researchers develop their interdisciplinary voice, and how to write for, and with, international scholars working in other disciplines.
It is commendable that four academics from the University of Namibia are taking part in this high level academic mentorship programme. The scholarly programme will have a huge impact not only on the academics themselves but also on the university.