In conversation with Professor Munacinga Simatele: Acting Dean of Research

Read time: 5 mins

One of UFH’s core objectives is to strive for Research Excellence. The Acting Dean of Research, Professor Munacinga Simatele is committed to attain this objective.  Prof Simatele is an Economics Professor and the Nedbank Chair of Economics in the Faculty of Management and Commerce. She assumed the role of Acting Dean on 1 April 2020.

Prof Simatele has a PhD in Economics from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK.  She obtained her MA in Economics from the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. She has been a fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK since 2010.

Her work focuses on poverty, financial inclusion and informality. Her commitment to excel has earned her various funded research awards including. In 2019, she was named the winner of Vice-Chancellor's Award in the Experienced Teacher category.  

She joined the University of Fort Hare in June 2014 as the Nedbank Chair. Between January 2016 and December 2019 she served as the Deputy Dean: Research and internationalisation in the faculty of Management and Commerce.

 Prof Simatele (MS) shared some of her research development plans with This Week @FortHare Journalist, Aretha Linden

AL: What responsibilities come with the role of Acting Dean of Research?

MS:  This is a tough one. I think primarily, it is realizing that I have to build on an existing infrastructure and processes left by the previous Dean of Research, but at the same time,  bring in a fresh eye to the role no matter how short the time.

I believe in: ‘whatever your hand finds to do so do it with all your might’. As a result, although this is an acting role, I take a medium and perhaps long term view to do things that need to be done, especially in light of the fact that the university is undergoing major changes.  I have taken the role at a time when a lot of external stakeholder reports and audits are due. Navigating the support structures to ensure that these are delivered on time has opened my eyes to the enormous task that the position comes with. 

Finally, I think management of relationships in an era when all you have in front of you is a computer is an added challenge. Therefore,  I am lucky that some of the key people I have found at the Govan Mbeki Research and Development Centre  (GMRDC),  are highly supportive and hard working. We have had countless meetings and these have been very helpful.  My eyes have also been opened to several policy gaps and therefore one of the responsibilities has been to establish good practice where these gaps exist,  and also to start working on filling these policy gaps.

AL: So far, what are some of the niche areas you have identified as having potential to further advance the university’s academic standing? How do you plan to achieve this?

MS: The main niche I have identified is the potential to enhance the University’s research culture.  The University already has a good number of excellent researchers. However, I think we need to work firstly, to make their work visible, but also increase the number of research-active academics.

Secondly, we also want to increase the amount of research income at the University. Evidence suggests that this is directly related to publication excellence and visibility. With the support of senior and accomplished academics, we have put in place measures to support grant applicants as well as improve our delivery times with external stakeholders.

AL: UFH is largely rural with the majority of its students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. What is your plan to ensure the quality of Research is on par with students from urban universities, while it addresses issues of a rural setting? 

MS: As the old adage says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I think that we have a little bit of a journey ahead before we can claim to be at par with urban universities.  However, working with academics, the first thing to do is to work towards making the research that our students conduct relevant to the rural setting. That way, we will become the go-to destination for rural solutions.

I think that someone from a largely rural background is better placed to understand the needs of the rural areas, and also more likely to engage with those communities to come up with homegrown solutions.

We have planned various workshops for postgraduate students. These are compulsory as required by the postgraduate guide. One of the focuses of these workshops is to instill a culture of relevant research and a give-back mentality. It is a good time to start emphasising this because the national research foundation is also now requiring scholarship beneficiaries to give back in some form.

We can see how some universities came to the fore rather quickly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of these solutions were developed by postgraduate students. The goal is to be a university that is similarly responsive to rural challenges.

AL: There has been concern that postgraduates are only capable of publishing papers and fail to commercialize or implement their services, products or findings.  What is your view on this matter?

MS: I think there might be some truth to that argument. However, sometimes these things happen due to lack of knowledge. Together with the innovations manager in the GMRDC,   we have put in place a plan to screen postgraduate theses and dissertations for potential intellectual property material as a starting point,  and use that to commercialize and also create pre-emptive training programmes. Moreover, commercialization sometimes comes in the form of commissioned work. One of the priority areas in the GMRDC’s innovations office for 2020/21 is to engage industry to commission funded research for our students.

AL: Lastly, what are your aspirations for the UFH Research Department?

MS: For it to become a vibrant research management office that efficiently manages research processes and creates an enabling environment for academics to produce world-class,  but locally relevant research output.