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UJ climbs into Top 5 of SA research producers

The University of Johannesburg has overtaken the University of Cape Town in terms of the quantity of research it produces—placing fifth in the country.

The Department of Higher Education and Training finalised its report on South African universities’ 2017 research outputs last month. The report is not yet online, but Research Africa has obtained a copy.

UJ has managed a remarkable rise in its combined production of journal articles, books and conference proceedings over the last eight years, the report says. And it continues to rise: In 2015 UJ was placed seventh nationally. In 2016 it overtook the University of South Africa, and in 2017 UCT.

DHET awards publication outputs according to a formula: Journal articles earn 1 unit each, conference proceedings 0.5 units, and books 1-10 units depending on the number of pages they contain. These tallies then form the basis for DHET’s publication subsidy payments to universities—a scheme which has been criticised for rewarding quantity over quality.

As with all other universities, most of UJ’s research was in the form of journal articles. But UJ gets more of its overall output score from books and conference proceedings than does UCT, which published more journal articles than the former (see Table). Most of its output was in the engineering and social sciences. It also made a good showing in business and economics, education, law, and physical sciences.

The most productive university in the country in 2017 was Pretoria—the same as in 2015 and 2016. It is followed by the universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Witwatersrand, and Stellenbosch.

Overall, South Africa’s research outputs kept growing in 2017, by 3.56 per cent from 2016. This was driven by a 5.3 per cent growth in journal publications, although books and conference proceedings both decreased slightly. Per capita output of research grew 52 per cent between 2007 and 2017. The report attributes the trend to the country’s growing number of researchers, their ability to attract research funding, improved infrastructure, and institutional policies.

About two-thirds of the outputs were authored by South Africans, while a third had foreign authors. Male researchers produced the majority: 65.7 per cent of the output. White men produced 22.51 per cent of the output, followed by African men (22.45 per cent), white women (21.2 per cent), Asian men (7.95 per cent), and African women (7.56 per cent). Asian women produced 3.84per cent, Coloured men 1.76 per cent, and Coloured females 1.67 per cent.

As in previous years, the report warns against the rising scourge of predatory journals. It highlights 2017 findings published in the South African Journal of Science which suggested that many South African scientists are falling prey to these publishers, which publish articles for a fee with little or no quality control.

“[DHET] will continue to engage the sector in finding solutions to combating this practice,” the report states. Anyone with information about predatory journals should report this to the department, it says.