National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Stephanie Burton

For her work during her nine-year tenure (two terms) as DVC: Research and Postgraduate Education at UP. She has made significant contributions to research development at the university and across SA.


The winner of the 2020/2021 for Management Award is Professor Stephanie Burton for her work at the University of Pretoria (UP). After a successful career as an academic, she became the deputy vice-chancellor (Research and Postgraduate Education) at UP, and over nine years she has been responsible for the management of all aspects of strategic research development, creating a significant increase in the university’s research productivity and national and international standing.

Burton boosts UP’s local and international standing

There is immense value in ensuring that education becomes a legacy; one that recognises the importance of scholars, professors, research and studies, and that looks to inventive ways of ensuring that these pursuits are recognised, valued and supported. This is the work that Professor Stephanie Burton, until recently Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria, set out to do since her appointment in 2011. Over the past nine years, she’s been responsible for the management of the development and implementation of policies and strategies to enable the university’s research performance and development across all disciplines in nine faculties. The results speak for themselves.

Since she took on the role, the University of Pretoria (UP) has significantly increased its research productivity and its national and international standing as a research-intensive institution. The university showed measurable increases in research outputs and related metrics over her nine-year tenure and has remained consistently ranked as among the top six South African universities. In addition, UP has moved into the top 500 in the QS and ARWU rankings over the past few years. In 2019, 56 UP scientists were positioned in the top ESI category compared with 35 in 2017.

Burton also undertook numerous research initiatives throughout her tenure. The Research that Matters campaign was initiated in 2014 and was put at the heart of the university’s research strategy, particularly research that addresses complex societal challenges.

 She also introduced the Fly Higher@UP programme in 2017 that provides academic, administrative and financial support to postgraduate students, from recruitment to graduation.

“Working with the university and getting to know the community and what they are trying to achieve has been remarkable,” says Burton. “It has underscored the importance of building capacity and recognising performance, and ensuring that everything we do is ethical and done with integrity. We need to remain innovative and at the forefront of leading research, and we need to ensure that we help people understand how to build their own careers and research programmes by giving them the mentorship they need.”

Burton believes that if an institution is going to be a leader, it has to look to both national and international influences and ensure that goals and objectives are strategic and agile.

“You have to look at the whole picture and understand your environment, and how this is impacted by the international stage, and how to remain strategic,” concludes Burton. “This is underscored by the UP2025 strategic plan which has, as one of its primary goals, to build the university’s research reputation and expand the impact of this research. When I took on the role, we started with a relatively small number of PhDs and postdoctoral fellows and researchers, and now we have almost doubled these numbers and our output. We have the highest number of PhD qualified academics in the country, and we are doing the same for our research output.”

This approach has not only meant that the objectives outlined in Burton’s mandate were achieved; it has made the University of Pretoria possibly the most progressive in the country. — Tamsin Oxford

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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