Counting what counts: A researcher productivity scoring framework for South African's universities of technology

Keywords: research incentive system, research productivity score, Universities of Technology (UoTs), Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT)


One of the three objectives of academic institutions all over the world is that of ensuring and upholding vibrant research productivity. For developing countries such as South Africa, public spending on research and development provides mechanisms for this. The South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is the custodian of government research funds. Evidence shows that DHET continues to grapple with the challenge of objectively measuring research productivity from the research funds invested in universities. The current funding framework applied by DHET has received numerous criticism one of them being its quantitative nature - it rewards quantity as opposed to quality research. This problem is more pronounced in Universities of Technology (UoTs) where, after more than ten years of operating as universities, the culture of research is not yet fully entrenched. Acknowledging the critical role played by research productivity measurements, we present a research productivity and quality measurement framework for UoTs. Using a case study of one of the UoTs, quantitative data relating to 48 aspects of the of existing research incentive system was used in determining the system’s effectiveness and efficacy in stimulating researchers’ activities. The proposed Framework consists of three components on: how to motivate researchers, what/how to measure research performance and how to incentivise researchers. Using an actual dataset of research outputs from the case study, an illustration on how to apply the framework has been provided. The results confirm our Framework’s ability to “count what counts” and proven the statement that “not everything that can be counted counts”.

Author Biography

M. Masinde, Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT)

I am a computer scientist with B.Sc, M.Sc and Ph.D Computer Science degrees from the University of Nairobi, the Free University of Brussels and the University of Cape Town respectively. In 2016, I won South Africa's Department of Science and Technology (DST) Distinguished Young Woman Scientist (Research and Innovation Category) award in recognition of my innovative research that focuses on applied artificial intelligence to develop solutions, models and algorithms that can effectively and efficiently predict droughts in a sustainable way. This research has also proven to be applicable to the problem of climate prediction and modelling.

Given the overwhelming burden of such disasters on Africa's small-scale farmers, I chose to focus my research on this most vulnerable group. In order to ensure people-centeredness and consequently, relevance and immediate impacts of the resulting solution, the small-scale farmers' indigenous knowledge on droughts is intelligently (using fuzzy cognitive maps) integrated into my research. One outstanding outcome from my research is ITIKI (acronym for Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence); a novel, relevant, affordable and sustainable tool that accurately predicts droughts. ITIKI taps into the rich African indigenous knowledge on natural disasters and augments it with ICTs, Wireless Sensor Networks, artificial intelligence and Mobile phones in this case. The novelty and relevance of this contribution was recognized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)'s Focus Group; "Bridging the gap: From Innovation to Standards". Through this initiative, ITIKI was considered for standardization and assigned an ITU Innovation ID.


My contribution to drought forecasting solutions has won me several accolades, including: An award of USD500,000 in 2017 under the USAID programme Securing Water for Food (SWFF) as well as being recognized as one of the Female Tech Founders at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January 2020. Additionally, my research contribution has been recognized by my employer, the Central University of Technology, Free State, where I won the Research, Innovation and Community Engagement Excellence Award for three consecutive years, 2016 to 2018.


My research solutions that impact on the lives of small-scale farmers have led to the creation of two spin-off companies serving over 10,000 people in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. The success stories from my research have also been covered in the media, nationally and internationally, including eNCA, SABC, Voice of America (, BBC World Service, New York Times, Reuters and as well as on TED Talks (


Furthermore, my research on the use of Indigenous Knowledge and ICTs to predict droughts has put me on the map, I get regular invitations as guest speaker, expert advisor and reviewer from all over the world. Some of these include a 2018 invitation to join  a panel of experts at the World Bank Food Security Forum in Washington DC and a regular Research Topic Editor for Frontiers ( journals under artificial intelligence and droughts thematic areas. My expertise also saw me get contracted as an Expert for European Commission for four projects covering the Internet of Things and Climate Change thematic areas.


In order to perpetuate my research beyond myself, I founded the Unit for Research on Informatics for Droughts in Africa (URIDA) at the Central University of Technology. This Unit is a first of its kind, it is dedicated to the advancement of scientific research and development of ICTs for predicting Africa's droughts. At URIDA, several computer science postgraduate projects have been initiated and completed under my supervision. I have over 50 publications in journals, books and peer-reviewed conference proceedings. These publications have already attracted over 300 citations on Google Scholar with the top 5 accounting for 50, 34, 32, 32 and 19 citations respectively. Furthermore, through this Unit, I have attracted funding, hosted international researchers and created collaborations across the globe. The Research Unit recently evolved into a commercial entity under the name URIDA PTY LTD.


Adler, Nancy J. and Anne Wil Harzing. 2009. “When Knowledge Wins: Transcending the Sense and Nonsense of Academic Rankings.” Academy of Management Learning and Education.

Andersen, Lotte Bøgh and Thomas Pallesen. 2008. “‘Not Just for the Money?’ How Financial Incentives Affect the Number of Publications at Danish Research Institutions.” International Public Management Journal 11(1): 28–47.

Bryman, A., E. Bell, P. Hirschsohn, A. dos Santos, J. du Toit, and A. Masenge. 2014. Research Methodology: Business and Management Contexts. Oxford University Press.

Bunting, Ian and Nico Cloete. 2010. Institutional Types in Higher Education in South Africa. Pretoria.

Carr, K. A. 2009. “Firms Find That Nonmonetary Rewards Count, Crain’s Cleveland Business.” Regional Business News 30(42).

Coyne, Imelda T. 1997. “Sampling in Qualitative Research. Purposeful and Theoretical Sampling; Merging or Clear Boundaries?” Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Denrell, Jerker and Balázs Kovács. 2008. “Selective Sampling of Empirical Settings in Organizational Studies.” Administrative Science Quarterly.

Derrick, Gemma E. and Chris Bryant. 2013. “The Role of Research Incentives in Medical Research Organisations.” R and D Management 43(1): 75–86.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2013. Report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of the Funding of Universities. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2014a. DHET Research Agenda: 2014-2017. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2014b. “Ministerial Statement on University Funding: 2015/16 and 2016/17.” Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2015a. Report on The Evaluation of the 2013 Universities’ Research Outputs. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2015b. “Research Output Policy (2015). Directorate: University Policy and Development Support.” Communiqué 2 of 2015 – August 2015, Vol. 597 11 March 2015, No. 38552. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2017. Report on the Evaluation of the 2015 Universities’ Research Output. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2018a – “DHET accredited journals 2018”. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2018b. Department of Higher Education and Training Annual Report 2016/17. Volume 5. Pretoria.

DHET see Department of Higher Education and Training.

Draucker, Claire B., Donna S. Martsolf, Ratchneewan Ross, and Thomas B. Rusk. 2007. “Pearls, Pith, and Provocation Theoretical Sampling and Category Development in Grounded Theory.” Qualitative Health Research 17(8): 1137–48.

Fisher, J. G. 2008. How to Run Successful Employee Incentive Schemes: Creating Effective Programmes for Improved Performance. Vol. 3. London, Great Britain.

Frey, B. and S. Neckermann. 2008. “Awards: A View from Psychological Economics.” Journal of Psychology 216: 198–208.

Gendron, Yves. 2015. “Accounting Academia and the Threat of the Paying-off Mentality.” Critical Perspectives on Accounting 26: 168–76.

Gliem, Rosemary R. and Joseph A. Gliem. 2003. “Calculating, Interpreting, and Reporting Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability Coefficient for Likert-Type Scales.” In Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education. 10.1109/PROC.1975.9792.

Green, Samuel B. 2016. Using SPSS for Windows and Macintosh: Analyzing and Understanding Data:Using SPSS for Windows and Macintosh: Analyzing and Understanding Data. American Statistician.

Harley, Yolande X., Esmari Huysamen, Carlette Hlungwani, and Tania Douglas. 2016. “Does the DHET Research Output Subsidy Model Penalise High-Citation Publication? A Case Study.” South African Journal of Science 112(5/6): 3 Pages.

Harzing, Anne Wil. 2013. “A Preliminary Test of Google Scholar as a Source for Citation Data: A Longitudinal Study of Nobel Prize Winners.” Scientometrics 94(3): 1057–1075.

Humphrey, Christopher and Yves Gendron. 2015. “What Is Going on? The Sustainability of Accounting Academia.” Critical Perspectives on Accounting 26: 47–66. 10.1016/

Larkin, I., L. Pierce, and F. Gino. 2012. “The Psychological Costs of Pay for Compensation of Employees.” Strategic Management Journal 33: 1194–1214.

Lobel, Jules. 2017. Chapter 4: Financing Research in Higher Education, 47–58. 10.1520/MNL10373M.

Mtshali, Mduduzi Nkosinathi Gladwin and Radhamany Sooryamoorthy. 2018. “A Research-Inducing Environment at a University of Technology in South Africa: Challenges and Future Prospects.” Futures June: 0–1.

Pinheiro, Rómulo, Patricio V. Langa, and Attila Pausits. 2015. “One and Two Equals Three? The Third Mission of Higher Education Institutions.” European Journal of Higher Education.

Pouris, Androniki E. M. and Anastassios Pouris. 2015. “An Assessment of South Africa’s Research Journals: Impact Factors, Eigenfactors and Structure of Editorial Boards.” South African Journal of Science 111(3–4): 1–8.

Reeve, Johnmarshall. 2012. “A Self-Determination Theory Perspective on Student Engagement.” In Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, 149–72. Boston, MA.

RSA Presidency. 2009. “Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF): A Framework to Guide Government”s Programme in the Electoral Mandate Period (2009 to 2014).” Pretoria.

Ryan, Richard M. and Edward L. Deci. 2000. “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.” American Psychologist.

Schroen, Anneke T., Monika J. Thielen, Florence E. Turrentine, Irving L. Kron, and Craig L. Slingluff. 2012. “Research Incentive Program for Clinical Surgical Faculty Associated with Increases in Research Productivity.” The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery 144(5): 1003–1009.

Stoyanov, Stoyan. 2017. A Theory of Human Motivation.

Sutton, Nicole C. and David A. Brown. 2016. “The Illusion of No Control: Management Control Systems Facilitating Autonomous Motivation in University Research.” Accounting and Finance.

Towers, Watson. 2012. “Companies That Successfully Retain Top Talent in M&As Start Early, Use Monetary and Nonmonetary Tactics, Towers Watson Survey Finds.” June 2012.

Zainal, Zaidah. 2007. “Case Study as a Research Method Zaidah.” Jurnal Kemanusiaan Bil.9.

How to Cite
Masinde, M., and J. Coetzee. 2021. “Counting What Counts: A Researcher Productivity Scoring Framework for South African’s Universities of Technology”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (3), 83-106.
General Articles