#Special Edition 2014

Engaged enquiry in a complex world: Research at the GSB

The past five years has seen a flowering of research at the UCT GSB, with an increase in PhD students as well as a rise in publication count. But beyond the numbers, faculty and students report a vibrant and collegial environment where they are encouraged to think ambitiously and creatively and to engage with the challenges of the day. In 2014, the UCT Graduate School of Business celebrated a record intake of PhD students, a clear indication that the school’s renewed emphasis on research is paying off. In the past few years, research has gone from strength to strength at the school with 27 students registered for the PhD programme in 2014, including nine international students, and the highest research output to date being registered in 2013.

“An active research community is the foundation for our claim to be a leading business school with high aspirations,” says Professor Ralph Hamann, who was the director of research at the school until 2014. He believes research allows faculty and students to be part of rigorous global discussions around critical questions facing business in South Africa and further afield and helps to build knowledge that has both a practical and theoretical impact.

“Without such engaged scholarship, our work is based on second-hand and outdated debates and truth claims,” he says.

Professor Hamann says the Financial Times also considers research an important category. The publication uses it as a key metric to create its annual ranking of the top 100 MBA programmes.

The investment in student research also contributes to the UCT GSB’s growing publication output. GSB faculty and students published a total of 40 peer-reviewed scholarly publications in 2013, including 26 journal papers, nine books or book chapters and four accredited conference papers.

Professor Hamann says that research is central to the UCT GSB’s mission and values. It has an important influence on teaching, learning and community service, and on positioning the school as a leader in emerging economies.

In line with its academic vision, the UCT GSB research is structured along three clear lines: social innovation and sustainability; values-based leadership; and emerging markets finance, investment and trade.

Geographically, the UCT GSB is in one of the most interesting learning laboratories in the world, in a society and economy in which people are making the transition from agrarian and feudal lifestyles to modern consumer lifestyles and careers within the span of a lifetime. This sociopolitical and economic transition presents GSB researchers with a special opportunity to conduct emerging market research that is of interest to the leading international scholarly journals in all management disciplines and contributes to the well-being of diverse stakeholders.

New strategies have been put in place in the past five years to improve research output even further. Along with the financial stimulation provided by the newly established Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership and the new Old Mutual Research Fellowships, the focus now is on supporting and incentivising good research.

The GSB seeks to increase the quality, quantity and relevance of research that is transforming and transformative, selectively comprehensive, locally responsive and engaged and globally competitive.

Research milestones

Some recent milestones for research at the GSB include the awarding of NRF research ratings to two new faculty members and the establishment of a research working group.

NRF ratings

Roughly 20% of GSB faculty are NRF-rated researchers. These figures improve further if visiting faculty members are included. UCT GSB visiting faculty, including Emeritus Associate Professor Chris Breen and Professor Enrico Uliana, also have NRF ratings. Rated faculty are: Professor Walter Baets, Professor John Luiz, Professor Ralph Hamann, Professor Thomas Koeble, Professor Nicholas Biekpe and senior lecturer, Dr Chipo Mlambo, as well as Professor Geoff Bick and Associate Professor Kosheek Sewchurran. The NRF acknowledges researchers who have an outstanding record of new research. The successful rating allows the researchers access to international funding, as well as incentive funding from the NRF, and is used as a national indicator of excellence.

Research Working Group

In 2011, the Research Working Group was established with the following aims:

  • To consider and provide guidelines on the GSB research strategy;
  • To support the continuous revision and updating of these research policies and guidelines;
  • To guide the development and implementation of research degrees or research work contributing to a degree;
  • To act as the GSB Ethics in Research Committee; and
  • To support the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of GSB research and its outputs. This includes assessing nominations for research awards or other applications for GSB support for research, and mediating in possible disputes surrounding the credibility or legitimacy of GSB research outputs.

The group consists of Professor Ralph Hamann, Professor Thomas Koelble, Professor Kurt April, Professor Anton Eberhard, Dr Sean Gossel, Dr Mlenga Jere, Professor John Luiz, Dr Shadrick Mazaza and Dr Chipo Mlambo.

Incentive system

A new incentive system has been established to promote research among faculty through efforts to ensure that research activities and outputs feature prominently in performance criteria, and this includes non-faculty staff members, students and other affiliated researchers. In 2010, the first publications award scheme was implemented. Researchers stand to win significant monetary awards for their research output.

Writing circle

Another initiative launched by the research director in 2010 was the writing circle that provides peer review and coaching to researchers. In 2011, the writing circle joined a dedicated three-day workshop cohosted by UCT’s Research Office.

Research events

Regular research events are held at the school in a drive to enrich the quality of research thinking at the school. Leading international and local academics are hosted at lunch-time presentations or longer conferences such as the Business of Social and Environmental Innovation (BSEI) Conference. Launched in 2011, the BSEI conference is now in its fourth year and is rapidly gaining credibility as one of the continent’s leading conferences dedicated to creating a better understanding of the role of business and organisational thinking in resolving societal issues, especially from an African perspective.

PhD programme and PRC series

In recent years research has become an ‘explicit priority’ at the GSB and the PhD programme is an essential component of the business school’s research strategy. PhD students participate in a structured research programme while they are at the school, which provides them with the theoretical and methodological foundations for their research projects. During their studies they are supported by a rigorous PhD and Research Colloquium (PRC) series consisting of about five events a year.

“Previously, many of our PhD students were engaging in their studies on a relatively casual, part-time basis, without much support from the school. We realised that this was not a feasible approach if we wanted to create a serious scholarly culture at the UCT GSB,” Professor Hamann says. “This is why the PRC series is such an important development and I am particularly grateful to my faculty colleagues and, of course, the students themselves for making these workshops as stimulating and productive as they are.”

PhD students should graduate from the UCT GSB not only with an internationally recognised PhD qualification, demonstrating thought leadership in their area of specialisation, but also a broader understanding of and passion for research. PhD candidates are expected to make an original contribution to theory, while also addressing practical organisational or social challenges. While the primary guidance to PhD candidates is provided by the PhD supervisor, fellow PhD students and other faculty provide a rich network of support and interaction.

Old Mutual Research Fellowship

Unquestionably, this research association with Old Mutual is an enormous boost to the UCT GSB’s research culture and faculty development. In terms of the new agreement, young PhD researchers will be given good funding to work on emerging market research around the UCT GSB’s key research themes. Each is being mentored by an experienced researcher at the GSB, and is working in cooperation with the Old Mutual Centre for Emerging Markets. Old Mutual has made R8.3 million available over a three-year period for this research collaboration.

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