A framework for enhancing the research culture within the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State
The focus on becoming a research-intensive institution requires an awareness of the existent research culture in order to support and stimulate research and become researchintensive. There is an open declaration of the prominence of research at the University of the Free State (UFS), to fulfil the goal of becoming a research-intensive university. Part of the strategy to achieve this status is the required presence of a culture of research, enabled by the research environment. Thus, the evaluation of the existing research culture is of significance. This study was aimed at determining the existing research culture at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FoHS) UFS as perceived by the staff of the Faculty, identify factors perceived to influence this existing research culture and compile a framework for the enhancement of the research culture at the FoHS, UFS. The studied population comprised of all academic (permanent staff, joint-appointment, contract staff in either a full-time or a part-time capacity) staff of the FOHs UFs employed within the three schools: School for Allied Professions, School of Medicine and School of Nursing. In addition, academic staff within the support domain (i.e. staff employed in a support capacity, yet have a research/teaching component as part of their role) were also included in the study. Furthermore, members of Executive Committee of each of the Schools, and the Dean of the Faculty were also invited and formed the target population for the validation meetings (VMs). This research was designed as an evaluative study with elements of case study evaluation (CSE) and Improvement-oriented evaluation (IOE). Methods utilized includes a comprehensive literature review; questionnaire survey; nominal group discussion technique (NGD) and VMs to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data were analysed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences version 24 (SPSS v24) and the results presented in frequencies and tables. Data obtained from the open ended questions, NDG and VMs were content analysed. Thematic analysis formed the cornerstone of the analysis, and specific attention was givento patterns and emerging themes. Qualitative data obtained from the literature review process contexualised the study in the body of existing literature and gave an overview of the theoretical underpinnings of the study. The departure point of the study was the academic culture model compiled by Smerek, et al. (2010). Research culture was defined and factors established in literature were identified. The contextual incorporation of health and higher education of this study to research culture culminated in the derivation of the theoretical framework of research culture. The perceived existing research culture in the FoHS UFs as opined by the participants of this study (result obtained from the thematic analysis of the open-ended questions) revealed 14 themes namely; Accepted norms; Context; Individual; Inter- and intra-personal interactions; New knowledge; Others; Perceptions and emotions; Philosophy; Policies; Research process; Staffing; Stakeholders; Support; and Time. These findings represent the perceived existing culture, through the lived experience of the participants in their work environment as a faculty academic. Similarly, thematic analysis of the participants' comments on factors that affect research culture in the FOHs UFS revealed seven themes namely; Context; Support; Policies; Individual; Inter- and intra-personal interactions; Research process and Philosophy. Furthermore, secondary analysis of themes using methods as described by Van Breda (2005) and McMillan, et al. (2014) revealed that the three most important ranked themes were Context, Support and Policies. Data obtained from the VMs provided additional perspectives from management on the existing research culture and the factors that affect research culture in the faculty. The final framework to enhance the research culture at the FoHS at the UFS was collated, utilising the data collected from these three methods. This framework gives insight into the hierarchy and relationships of the factors required (currently perceived as present, partially present or absent) to be able to inculcate a research culture that is driven by successful knowledge creation and dissemination. This study represents the first investigation into the research culture of the FoHS at the UFS. In this way, this study also provides new data in the field of research culture in the context of a health and higher education (HE) Faculty in South Africa.