Having celebrated our 50th Anniversary, it is now a time to look both back and forwards. The Institute’s proud record of research, teaching, and raising the public awareness of science was built over 50 years of hard work and strategic planning. Securing a sustainable future in the face of escalating global environmental change will require innovative approaches to conserving biodiversity. We have a vision to build on the successes of the past to ensure even greater contributions to science, conservation, education and outreach in the future.
The Fitztitute is viable in its current state and we have solid support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) guaranteed for the next three years. However, we could more effectively fulfil our threefold mission of research, teaching, and outreach with enhanced financial sustainability.
Funding for Research
The Fitztitute has a number of ongoing research projects. Central among these are (1) a set of long-term research projects that have been supported over long time periods (decades, in some cases); (2) a series of shorter-term, more responsive projects and programmes that are aimed at both academic and applied aspects of ecology, conservation biology, and the sustainability of natural systems; and (3) research-oriented interactions with international researchers.
Long-term projects are essential for understanding ecological dynamics that occur over large time scales. However, they can go in and out of fashion, and all too often a lack of sustainable funding creates gaps that are difficult to fill later. These projects need flexible research funds that can be targeted towards particular goals as funding levels change.
Shorter-term projects may last for several months or up to three or four years. The primary advantage of funding for short-term projects is the opportunity to capitalize on our ability to respond rapidly to urgent conservation issues and/or stakeholder needs. Under short-term research funding, we also include the research costs (e.g., equipment, travel, on-site accommodation) of student projects such as those undertaken by our Conservation Biology MSc students. Short-term projects may be relatively less expensive. Therefore, we could greatly increase our research outputs (while also having a positive effect on student training) if we could build up flexible funding that could be directed annually, on a competitive basis, to the most potentially productive projects. It would be even better for us if we could guarantee up to three years of funding support to individual projects; this would allow us to increase our MSc and PhD intake substantially.
We have many interactions with international researchers. Having a visiting researcher’s fund, that would contribute towards covering the costs of visitors to the Fitztitute, would greatly increase our ability to invite and host top researchers from other countries. Such people may potentially have a large impact on our overall productivity, standard of research, and international profile. They could also help teach on the MSc course (see also the third category in the next section).
Funding for Teaching
Our primary funding goals for teaching fall into three categories:
The first of these is student support. Each year we unfortunately turn away well-qualified applicants to the Conservation Biology course and our PhD programme for lack of funds. We would particularly like to be able to offer more bursaries to students from both South Africa and from other African countries.
The second category is that of funding for field work. Students learn by hands-on experience, and we often lack sufficient funds to allow our students to pursue high-profile projects in their desired areas of study. We also have a need for support for class outings that are undertaken during the MSc course. We typically spend around R40 000 per annum on CB MSc field trips.
The third teaching-related category concerns teaching capacity. The MSc course is currently taught as a series of modules that are presented by a combination of internal and external lecturers. In some cases we bring in lecturers from overseas at considerable expense. Funding support for these lecturers is often uncertain.
With the global human population increasing until at least 2050 and a set of massive global environmental changes on the horizon, demand for our “product” will keep growing for the foreseeable future: with your help, we will endeavour to ensure our high-profile position in South African higher education.
Funding for Outreach Activities
Although our outreach activities are less in need of funding than teaching and research, our ability to draw in additional funding is linked to our ability to reach out to stakeholders and work with them to make worthwhile contributions to real-world conservation issues. While many such interactions fall into the categories of research and teaching, a small amount of money set aside for various promotional and stakeholder-oriented activities (e.g. web sites, production of field guides, short courses, workshops, travel, etc.) would make a valuable contribution to our overall success.
For more information on the Institute’s fundraising goals or on how you can support the Institute, please contact Dr Rob Little at E-mail email@example.com or tel: +27 (0)21 650 4026 / 3291.