University Research Centers Guidelines

The Academic Research Office has provided these guidelines for the purpose of enhancing a systematic research agenda at the United States International University (Africa) as well as stimulating research activities through the use of University Research Centers (URC).

It is the goal of these guidelines that USIU strives to leverage its multi-accreditation along with student and faculty diversity to cultivate an interdisciplinary culture of research and scholarship. Through interdepartmental, interschool, and inter-institutional collaboration, our overall research agenda through the URC will be able to cultivate an interdisciplinary culture. Therefore, these guidelines are intended to provide a broad, flexible set of ideas aimed at moving toward an overarching interdisciplinary vision that will enhance the University's value to our students, faculty, staff, the community and society.

Working under the oversight of the Academic Research Center, and in collaboration with the University Council’s Academic Research Committee (ARC), the URCs will play an important role in broadening the knowledge base which leads to new discoveries and which informs new policies that ensure discoveries are incorporated into society in a productive and beneficial manner.

These same centers also, and simultaneously, will play an important role in educating and training the next generation of innovators, upon whom the quality of the ideas that will cultivate and shape the world of tomorrow depends.

As of 2007, USIU-Africa had two URCs:

1) the Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence Development (CEED) located in the School of Business providing research, workshops and training services

2) Sustainable Development Initiative Center (SUDIC) located in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

While these two centers are a good start, further effort is needed to add at least two more centers so that their mandate is neither so broad as to permit the center to pursue virtually any type of activity, nor so narrow as to restrict its ability to adapt. This document covers guidelines in three areas:

1) establishing of a URC,

2) requirements for a URC

3) documenting performance of a URC.

A) Guidelines for Establishing a University Research Center

The general guidelines for establishing new URCs should not only be based on relevant features but also it’s positioning of the university’s image.

1. Relevant Features Criteria.

The criteria for determining relevant features of a URCs are as follows:

  • Is their focal area critically important to the success of the University?
  • Is it potentially transforming; will it allow us to become the leading program among peer institutions?
  • Can it successfully raise funds to support itself?
  • Can it draw new kinds of exceptionally talented faculty and students?
  • Will it lead to new curricular development?
  • Will it strengthen the USIU-Africa mission?"
  • Will it influence others beyond those participating in the initiative itself?
  • Will it make an impact on the outside world?

2. Positioning of USIU-Africa Criteria

The center should create high external visibility for USIU-Africa through its reputation. This visibility could be achieved as a result of the center's high standing relative to other similar centers or the center's "uniqueness." The accomplishments and prestige of the center's faculty are the primary drivers of external visibility and reputation. Three areas of interest would include increasing of fiscal returns, development of human capital, and bolstering of the university’s mission.

  • Increasing of Fiscal Returns. Centers return financial resources to the University by charging certain faculty and staff salaries to grants, through cost recovery on awards administered by the center and, in some instances, through tuition generated from workshop programs. Indirect fiscal return is also anticipated since Centers generate or stimulate a substantial volume of research activity that is attributed to a school or program because; the award is administered by the Center. It is important, therefore, to determine the total grant activity of a Center - and hence its total fiscal return to the University.
  • Development of Human Capital. The Centers' cutting-edge research programs, premiere faculty, overall prestige, and shared facilities can enhance the University's ability to recruit top-notch faculty and students. The prestige of a Center clearly adds to the overall visibility and prestige of the University. Centers often support research facilities which are available for use by other faculty university-wide. Centers offer opportunities for return on intellectual property that result from original and creative Center activities.
  • Bolstering the University’s Mission. But above all, the Center's objectives and programs should be aligned with the university's mission and strategic planning framework. A Center that demonstrably advances the University’s priority programs and meets many, if not all, of the general criteria for strategic initiatives cited in the plan is most likely to attract both faculty and internal resources. It should also support the academic mission. Centers are not intended to replace schools and programs in the delivery of academic programs. However, if a Center supports the overall academic mission of the University, it has a higher likelihood of effective collaborations with schools and programs, and it will attract greater faculty and student participation. Support of the academic mission may take the form of funding graduate students and fellows, providing graduate and undergraduate research opportunities, offering classes and/or sponsoring seminars and colloquia, and providing a forum for interdisciplinary interactions.

Guidelines for a URC’s Operating Requirement

The URC’s Objectives

The Center’s objectives should be guided by the University’s mission statement and be able to clearly guide a Center in its subject matters and in the types of programs it conducts. The stated objectives should neither be so broad as to permit the Center to pursue virtually any type of activity, nor so narrow as to restrict its ability to adapt. The Center’s research and activities should follow from, and be designed to advance, its objectives. The objectives should make clear how the Center's activities cross schools and program boundaries. A URC should not replicate what is already being done through existing schools or program mechanisms. Hence, the Center should strive to enhance its;
a) Core Business. The Center should have an identifiable core set of activities (core business) which exhibits stability and appropriate growth and which are continually revitalized.

b) Project Funding. The Center should heavily rely on externally funded research, especially for large projects or training grants, and internally funded research for smaller projects or typically to seed new initiatives.

c) Community Engagement: The Center should build an industrial/external relations program through which Center members are brought into active contact with industry and other external organizations. It should aim at serving the local, national, regional and international communities. Ultimately, the Center should strive towards engagement of or engagement with a research park concept.

d) Educational Support: The Center must support master’s students and post graduate fellows through their participation in research, training grants and other sources of funding. It should also provide research opportunities and programs for undergraduate students; and organize symposia and colloquia delivered to internal and external (public) audiences.

e) Programs Leverage. The Center should be able to leverage successful programs. This can occur when research results are quickly integrated into education, training and practitioner programs, or industrial relations programs such as a Research Park used to generate discretionary funds for internally seeded projects.

f) Adaptive Ability. The Center should be able to adapt to its internal and external environments. It should also have the leadership and resources to capitalize on new research opportunities and to respond to critical technology needs of the nation and the economy.

Operational Structure

To achieve the above objectives, the URC must purposely organize its operational structure strategically through a strong leadership system, an entrepreneurial approach and a collaborative spirit.

a) Leadership. The URC should be visionary and entrepreneurial and show leadership by successfully achieving strong collaborations and funding. The Center should have a board or team of external and/or internal advisors to provide strategic guidance and oversight. Its coordinator should actively seek out advisory board members who can and will provide guidance and oversight to the Center.

b) Entrepreneurial Approach. The Center should be able to attract and retain entrepreneurial researchers, including staff members and student interns who are heavily supported by Center funds generated from grants.

c) Collaborative Spirit. To achieve its research objectives, the Center should promote strong collaborations among members, with other USIU-Africa units, and with other academic institutions, industry, the community, and government. Internally, a URC should have significant faculty involvement in each of its various programs. The disciplinary diversity of faculty is as important as the number. The Center should also be interdisciplinary drawing researchers from multiple disciplines, programs, and schools. Thus, there should be active collaboration, and not just mutual coexistence, in the execution of the Center's programs.

Prudent Financial Resources Management

Besides the human capital, another key resource for ensuring a sustained research center is its financial resources that need to be managed strategically, including diversity of funding sources, ability to cover fixed costs and availability of discretionary funds.

a) Broad funding sources. A Center should not depend on any single program area or individual funding source. A portfolio of funds minimizes risk and enables a Center to survive loss of any single funding source.

b) Cover fixed costs. The Center should be able to generate sufficient revenues to cover its fixed costs, largely internal staff and critical operating expenses.

c) Availability of discretionary funds. If the Center has discretionary resources, it can invest in new initiatives (seed grant projects) to keep current programs contemporary or develop new programs. Discretionary resources may be derived from university allocations, from "surpluses" generated by on-going programs, or from other internal or external sources.

C) Guidelines for Documenting University Research Center Annual Reports

At the end of it all, the Center must be able to document its performance relative to some established benchmarks as spelt out in its objectives section above. The reports should show respective performance trends along with specific units to be measured:

Performance Trends

In a Center's initial annual report, a listing of quantitative benchmarks should be accompanied by retrospective tables providing historical performance. In subsequent annual reports, the Center's current year performance with respect to its quantitative benchmarks should be added to the data compiled for prior years. These data should among others, at the least show trends with respect to:

a) Changes from prior year. An assessment of changes from the prior year in the Center's status with regard to the basic characteristics of a successful University Research Center as outlined above.

b) Progress. This constitutes a summary of progress toward the objectives cited in the prior year's annual report.

a) Publications. A listing of publications that are a part of the Center's programs.

b) Awards and proposals. A summary of the Center's research awards and proposals (these data can be provided by the Office of Research and Program Development, Institutional Research or similar other offices in the University).

2. Measurement Units

A sample of suggested measurement units along with respective performance indicators are outlined below for the URC’s consideration.

a) Faculty Performance: Some of the indicators to be considered here would include; the number of Center publications, index of quality/impact by citations of Center publications, acquisitions of intellectual properties such as patents, licenses, start-ups etc, number of Center faculty who are members of the national academies or comparable bodies, number of Center faculty awards from professional societies and other Center faculty honors/recognitions.

b) Funding Performance: Pertinent indicators may include the number of externally funded research awards administered by the Center, total Center award activity (including awards to Center-affiliated faculty), research funded by University or Center funds, research expenditures, research proposals submitted, diversity of funding sources, amount of discretionary funds and support for students/fellows (graduate or undergraduate).

c) Collaborative Performance: Relevant data should cover internal performance such as departments/schools represented by faculty involved in collaborative research, external partnerships such as academic institutions, industrial partners, national laboratories, other external entities involved in collaborative Center research including industrial/external relations programs such as educational outreach programs and service to society and the number of shared research facilities and intellectual property.

d) Educational Activities: These should include the number of training programs, and other educational programs including symposia and colloquia for internal and external audiences. In general, the URCs should maintain up-to-date information on similar Centers and related major initiatives at peer institutions as benchmarks against which to measure their achievements and status.

As pointed out earlier, these guidelines are intended to provide a broad, flexible set of ideas aimed at moving toward an overarching interdisciplinary vision that will enhance the University's value to our students, faculty, staff, the community and society. Thus, working under the oversight of the Academic Research Center office, and in collaboration with the University Council’s Academic Research Committee (ARC), the URCs will play an important role in broadening the knowledge base which leads to new discoveries and which informs new policies that ensure discoveries are incorporated into society in a productive and beneficial manner. We believe that through interdepartmental, interschool, and inter-institutional collaboration, our overall research agenda through the URC, will be able to cultivate a strong interdisciplinary and collaborative research culture that would make USIU-Africa a relevant local, national and global partner in the generation of new ideas.