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NRF invests in the science and people of South Africa

The National Research Foundation (NRF) was established to support and promote research through funding, representative human capacity development and the provision of the necessary research infrastructure in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including humanities, social sciences and indigenous knowledge; support and maintain National Research Facilities; support and promote public awareness of and engagement with science; and promote the development and maintenance of the national science system and support of Government priorities.

Towards strengthening the NSI, the NRF has undertaken the following.

Postgraduate and Researcher support

During the 2016/17 financial year, the NRF invested:

  • R1.137 billion to support postgraduate students and emerging researchers
  • R260 million in research grants for established researchers 

In terms of human capacity development, this translates to: 

  • 4520 Researchers;
  • 4936 Honours students;
  • 4995 Master’s students and
  • 3363 Doctoral students supported

Transformation of South Africa’s science cohort is a major priority for the NRF. By increasing the number of black, women and disabled researchers, the organisation contributes to the creation of a sustainable and representative research environment.

In the 2016/17 period

  • Black postgraduates accounted for 76% and females 57% of total postgraduates funded 
  • Black researchers accounted for 35% and females 39% of total researchers funded
  • Black researchers accounted for 32% and females 26% of total NRF rated researchers 
  • Black participants accounted for 91% and females 71% of the total of interns enrolled for the DST-NRF Internship Programme.

SA Research Chairs Initiative & Centres of Excellence

There are currently 214 DST-NRF Research Chairs in the NRF’s SA Research Chairs Initiative, a large number of which focus on the country’s Grand Challenges of Bio-economy, Energy Security, Global Climate Change and Human & Social Dynamics. The objectives of the initiative are to:

  • Expand the scientific research and innovation capacity of South Africa;
  • Improve South Africa’s international research and innovation competitiveness while responding to social and economic challenges of the country;
  • Attract and retain excellent researchers and scientists;
  • Increase the production of masters and doctoral graduates; and
  • Create research career pathways for young and mid-career researchers, with a strong research, innovation and human capital development output trajectory.

The Centres of Excellence (CoE) programme creates physical or virtual centres of research that concentrate existing research excellence and capacity and resources to enable researchers to collaborate across disciplines and institutions on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive in order to enhance the pursuit of research excellence and capacity development. Included are CoEs which operate in areas of healthcare, biotechnology, energy and human development.

Investing in the future

From 2016/17 to 2020/21, the NRF will have invested an estimated R2.94 billion in research for the following Grand Challenges:

  • Bio-economy (R292 million) – From farmer to pharma, food, healthcare, and industrial applications for biotechnology.
  • Energy security (R482 million) - Energy efficiency; renewable and nuclear energy; catalysis; hydrogen fuel cells; and mineral and energy resources analysis.
  • Global climate change (R1 billion) – Enhancing scientific understanding of global climate change and developing innovations and technologies to respond to global climate change.
  • Human & social dynamics (R1.1 billion) – From palaeoanthropology, archaeology and evolution genetics, to education and indigenous knowledge systems.

From 2016/17 to 2020/21, the NRF will have invested an estimated R1.5 billion in the following Geographic Advantage Areas:

  • Palaeosciences (R231.3 million)
  • Antarctic research (R237 million)
  • Indigenous knowledge (R125.5 million)
  • Biodiversity (R878 million)

From 2016/17 to 2020/21 the NRF will have invested an estimated R3.2 billion in space science and technology – from innovations in earth observations and space sciences to communications, navigation and engineering. The field of space science and technology is a cross-cutting discipline that is both a geographic advantage area as well as a grand challenge.