Higher yearning: researchers left strapped for cash

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Higher yearning: researchers left strapped for cash

Decision to slash annual incentive funding leaves rated academics in the lurch

Journalist


A professor who was forced to cancel a trip to the US in 2018 to attend a conference after waiting in vain for the National Research Foundation to pay his one-off incentive of R30,000, is relieved that he will soon be paid.
But he is still frustrated at a revised funding model that came into effect in 2018 which leaves researchers strapped for cash.
After an almost 18-month wait, Harry Sewlall, a former professor of English studies and popular culture at the University of Venda, received confirmation on Thursday that he will soon be receiving the money.
But many other researchers across the country have not been as lucky and are still waiting to be paid.
Since 2018, all A, B, C and Y-rated researchers who  received incentive funding prior to 2017, became eligible for a payment of a one-off amount of R30,000 for being a rated researcher – a much lower amount than before.
Rated researchers numbered 3,689 in 2017.
Researchers are rated by the NRF, and the higher the rating, the higher the incentive used to be.
“Last year an abstract of mine was accepted for the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) conference in the US. I had to embarrass myself and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t get funding’,” said Sewlall.
“Whilst I am relieved that I will be attending this year’s conference in November, I missed last year’s conference.”
He said the R30,000 would not be enough to cover the cost of his four-day stay in the US, which was in the region of R60,000.
“I will be self-funding the balance.”
He said the NRF’s decision to slash the annual incentive funding for rated researchers was “extremely disillusioning for me”.
​“As an established researcher, I feel demotivated. Obviously, if I am asked to hold a workshop or to address up-and-coming researchers, my negativity will definitely rub off on to the audience.”
In the past, researchers received different incentives based on their ratings. Sewlall used to receive R40,000 per year for six years, as a C-rated researcher, while now he, like most other rated researchers, will get the one-off R30,000 for the six-year period. Previously, the highest-rated researchers would receive up to R100,000 per year for six years.
According to the revised funding model, all “P”-rated researchers will receive R50,000 per year for six years, and all newly rated researchers rated C and Y will receive two tranches of R30,000 over a six-year period.
A staff member at North West University, who preferred not to be identified, said he had heard that about 10 rated researchers had received award letters this week.
“But many are complaining because it is almost June already and they haven’t been paid.”The NRF informed universities only in April that rated researchers were no longer required to apply for incentive funding but would receive this automatically.NRF spokesperson Thabiso Nkone said the standard practice was for researchers to channel their queries through their respective research offices to the NRF.He did not respond to questions about the number of researchers who had not received their one-off incentive payments.

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