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Building a Culture of Research at DUT

Building a Culture of Research at DUT

DUT reporter, Waheeda Peters, caught up with Professor Anthony Collins, who joined DUT as a Professor and Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Design in the Journalism Department, this year, 2015. He has an interdisciplinary critical social sciences background which includes cultural studies, psychology, and media studies. He holds a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has worked at Rhodes University, Wits, and UKZN. Much of his academic work has entailed developing new South African curriculum by applying critical theoretical frameworks to current social problems, for which he was awarded both a UKZN Distinguished Teacher Award and a HELTASA National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award.

Waheeda: What is your role at the DUT Journalism Programme?

Prof Collins: I think I was specifically brought into DUT because I have a lot of experience setting up post-graduate programmes and with doing research and supervising student research. Previously, I developed a Master’s programme and I supervised PHD research and set up collaborative projects both with my students and community organisations across universities in South Africa, so I’m sure part of bringing me into DUT was to both build up the Master’s and PHD level research and to encourage research within DUT.

Waheeda: Your goals for the Journalism Programme?

Prof Collins: The first step is to build up what used to be the MTech degree (now Master’s) and as that develops, introduce a doctorate in Journalism. The Journalism programme is now thinking of introducing a coursework component in the Master’s degree by including courses in specialist areas that would give students a higher level of academic and conceptual skills  and to enable them to do research in that area. We are hoping the coursework would be available from 2016 or 2017.

Waheeda: Is research funding easily obtainable at DUT?

Prof Collins: It’s quite easy to get funding at the higher levels, however, it’s much harder to get funding for diploma or bachelor degrees. There is some University funding for research expenses. There are the various scholarships and some of them can be quite generous. For really outstanding academic students who have achieved good results, getting financial backing at a Master’s level is much easier and PHD level is the easiest (level) of all (to get funding).

Waheeda: Are collaborations with other institutions on the cards?

Prof Collins: Yes, very much so. For example, one of the areas that I’m already collaborating on is looking at gender based violence at universities. Violence is my topic of interest. We have a couple of campuses where students are investigating the experiences of students who are or have been sexually assaulted or threatened because of their sexual orientation. I also have close links with the Rhodes Journalism Department and there are a number of areas that are open for the Journalism Department to collaborate on, particularly if new Master’s and PHD students join the programme. We currently have students looking at women experiences in professional journalism, as well.

Q: Waheeda: Since we are a University of Technology-why is there such a need to conduct research?

A: Prof Collins: Traditionally, universities of technology would be more orientated to skills training and particular forms of employment, whereas a larger part of the other universities were based on the idea of doing pure research. That has however been changing more and more for many reasons. Firstly, I think people are seeing that the split between professional training and research isn’t that clear, in fact you need both things (skills and research), and part of training people at the cutting edge of your field is that you are doing research in your field and you are networking with other experts. The change also has to do with funding patterns as well. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) funds research and it wants their staff to do doctorates, so there are tremendous financial rewards in that.

Q:  Waheeda: Do you think research will take a while to be implemented at DUT?

A:  Prof Collins: This shift to research and PhDs is an international move across all universities, academics are expected to have doctorates and the question is how does that fit in at DUT? Is it just this annoying chore that doesn’t fit in to your expertise or can it become an expression of the expertise you have? It’s important that some postgraduate degrees practical component and that part of the PHD in fields such as Arts and Design is actually the creative works. It also has to include being able to understand the contemporary theory around the creative work, analysing it and being able to provide an academic commentary on it. So the challenge is to make appropriate PHDs, and not to just import an idea of a PHD from another kind of institution, but to maintain academic excellence and combine it with the other forms of professional excellence for each discipline.

Q: Waheeda: Should we work towards having research chairs in arts and design at DUT?

A:  Prof Collins: Yes. I sometimes also think it would be really great to have a chair within the University on violence in South Africa. It’s such an inter-disciplinary issue and an important issue for society. To motivate for a research chair, you must have a strong research agenda that is defined. A research chair must be a well-respected researcher and well-published in their field; so it’s a matter of building up the infrastructure to being able to do that.

Q:  Waheeda: Are you excited about being part of the research culture at DUT?

Prof Collins: I feel very optimistic that the principal and vice-chancellor, Prof Ahmed Bawa is really creating a culture of research and perhaps 10 years ago I would not have thought of myself as fitting in at a University of technology and now it feels like a really great, creative space to be in.

Pictured: Prof Anthony Collins, who joined DUT as a Professor and Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Design in the Journalism Department, this year, 2015.

—Waheeda Peters

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