SOUTH AFRICA: Latest ratings of leading researchers

South Africa has 72 'A rated' researchers who are "unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field", according to the rating system of the National Research Foundation. The great majority are in three universities - Cape Town, Stellenbosch and the Witwatersrand. There are now 1,686 rated researchers in six categories that cover experienced, young and 'disadvantaged' academics, and all receive 'glue' funding for their research.

In terms of fields, the highest number of 'A rated' academics are in animal and veterinary sciences (10) while there are eight each in engineering and mathematics, seven in health sciences, six in physics, and five each in plant sciences, law, and literary studies, languages and linguistics.

Across all six categories, most rated scholars are in health sciences, followed by animal and veterinary sciences, engineering, mathematics and physics.

Researchers get financial support at varying levels, based on their rating, from an incentive funding programme. This 'glue' money is to keep their research programmes going "during lean periods when applications for research grants are not fulfilled", reports the National Research Foundation, or NRF. Academics can use the money at their discretion, with limited conditions attached.

Researchers apply for ratings to the NRF, and panels of experts in 22 subject fields assess the standing of researchers among their peers, based on work produced during the previous seven years. Ratings, the NRF contends, are thus "assigned on the basis of objective statements contained in reviewers' reports".

The latest statistics on rated researchers in South Africa, provided to University World News by the NRF, indicate that around one in seven of all researchers are now rated in one category or another. There are some 22,400 full-time equivalent researchers in the country, according to the annual national R&D survey conducted by the Department of Science and Technology.

Among the 72 'A rated' scientists, 30 work for the University of Cape Town, and there are 16 and 12 respectively at the universities of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and Stellenbosch. There are four at the University of Pretoria, three at KwaZulu-Natal, two at North-West and one each at Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

There are no 'A rated' researchers at universities of technologies but there are three based in science councils - one each at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

Among the total of 1,686 rated researchers across all six categories, 1,553 are at universities while there are 18 rated researchers in museums, 68 in science councils or non-governmental organisations, and 47 either in foreign institutions or in the public or private sector.

There are 1,499 rated researchers in South Africa's 11 'traditional' and six 'comprehensive' universities (created out of mergers between 'traditional' and polytechnic institutions) and a further 54 are based in universities of technology (former polytechnics). Only one institution, Mangosuthu Technikon in Durban, is not listed as having rated researchers.

But two thirds of all rated academics are concentrated in five universities - Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, the Witwatersrand and KwaZulu-Natal.

With 277 rated researchers, the University of Cape Town has the most, followed by Stellenbosch (229), Pretoria (213), the Witwatersrand (165) and KwaZulu-Natal (138). Next is the North-West University with 94 rated researchers, the huge distance education University of South Africa (72), Free State (71) and Johannesburg (62).

With 56 rated researchers, the University of the Western Cape has the most among the historically disadvantaged universities set up under apartheid for black students. Next is the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University with 47 while Rhodes University (40) has a low number but a high proportion of ratings among its small body of academics.

There are 390 'B rated' researchers, described as enjoying "considerable international recognition by their peers" for the high quality and impact of their recent research. A further 942 'C rated' researchers have "a sustained recent record of productivity in the field" and are recognised by peers as having produced a body of quality work.

The 'P' and 'Y' categories cover young researchers, usually aged under 35 years, who have had a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years.

'P rated' researchers - who number only 14, with five of them at Cape Town - demonstrate "exceptional potential" in their published doctoral or research work and are considered likely to become future leaders in their fields. 'Y rated' researchers are recognised as having the potential to establish themselves as researchers within five years based on their performance and productivity: there are 211 people in this category with the most (30) at Stellenbosch, followed by Pretoria (28) and Cape Town (26).

The 'L' rating category was created to encourage more women and (black) people from disadvantaged backgrounds into research. According to the NRF, it also caters for academics based in institutions that lacked a research environment, and former researchers who have returned after periods in industry or elsewhere. There are 57 'L rated' researchers with Stellenbosch (eight) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (seven) having the most.

The full list of rated researchers, and information about the ratings system, are featured on the National Research Foundation website:
Current NRF rated researchers