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The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI)

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). It is designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities through the establishment of Research Chairs at public universities in South Africa with a long-term investment trajectory of up to fifteen years.

The main goal of the Research Chairs initiative is to strengthen and improve research and innovation capacity of public universities for producing high quality postgraduate students and research and innovation outputs. The key objectives of SARChI 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 instrument is designed to bring new research leadership capacity into public universities, while at the same time retaining those that are already at the universities. To this effect a 60/40 target for external vs internal candidates was set to encourage recruitment from outside South African universities, i.e., from industry and abroad, including African scholars and South Africans in the diaspora.

Research Chairs are established at the Tier 1 or Tier 2 level based on the candidate’s research track record and standing and postgraduate student and postdoctoral fellow training track record. Tier 1 Chairs are for established researchers that are recognised internationally as a leader in their field and/or have received international recognition for their research contributions. Tier 2 Chairs are for established researchers, with a potential to achieve international recognition for their research contributions in the next five to ten years. Candidates from abroad that are willing to spend at least 50% of their time at a South African host university are eligible for consideration at the Tier 1 level. However, international candidates appointed at the Tier 2 level are required to reside full-time in South Africa for the duration of the Research Chair award.

Research Chairs are held by a university in partnership with a public research institution such as: another university, a science council, a national research facility or an academic health complex. Since inception, 150 Research Chairs were awarded to 21 public universities across the country in open and directed categories; priority research areas; science and technology for poverty alleviation; innovation, engineering and technology development; and within the national science and technology missions.