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The Reviews and Evaluation (RE) directorate enhances the contribution of the NRF as a strategic partner in knowledge production, human capital development and infrastructure provision.

The directorate ensures the operation of a world–class reviews and evaluation system that conforms to the principles of confidentiality, access to information, transparency, ethical considerations and commitment to excellence.

RE ensures that the NRF is able to carry out its mandate by:

  • Rating of researchers according to the NRF Rating System.
  • Review and evaluation of programmes operated by the NRF itself as well as those commissioned by external agencies.
  • Evaluation of research proposals submitted for various funding instruments.


The NRF rating system is a key driver in its objective to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa. It is a valuable tool for benchmarking the quality of our researchers against the best in the world.

NRF ratings are allocated based on a researcher’s recent research outputs and impact as perceived by national and international peer reviewers. It encourages researchers to publish high quality outputs in high impact journals or through other vehicles. Rated researchers as supervisors will impart cutting-edge skills to the next generation of researchers.

The NRF Rating System incorporates a number of categories:

  • A – Researchers who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.
  • B – Researchers who enjoy considerable international recognition by their peers for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.
  • C – Established researchers with a sustained recent record of productivity in the field who are recognised by their peers as having:
    • Produced a body of quality work, the core of which has coherence and attests to ongoing engagement with the field
    • Demonstrated the ability to conceptualise problems and apply research methods to investigating them.
  • P – Young researchers (normally younger than 35 years of age), who have held the doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application and who, on the basis of exceptional potential demonstrated in their published doctoral work and/or their research outputs in their early post-doctoral careers are considered likely to become future international leaders in their field.
  • Y – Young researchers (40 years or younger), who have held the doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application, and who are recognised as having the potential to establish themselves as researchers within a five-year period after evaluation, based on their performance and productivity of quality research outputs during their doctoral studies and/or early post-doctoral careers..

Each rating category consists of various sub-categories which further define the standing and position of the rated researcher.

Programme Reviews/Evaluations

RE distinguishes between two types of programme evaluation or review:

  • Those commissioned by the Executive Management of the NRF.
  • Those commissioned by entities external to the NRF, for example, the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Within the NRF, the term “review” is used to distinguish between programme evaluations and other types of evaluations undertaken within the organisation.

The scope and time requirements of reviews need to be planned carefully to facilitate the identification and appointment of suitable reviewers, a review reference group, service providers, etc. 

Accountability for the review process rests within RE while entities commissioning reviews assist in the gathering of data, e.g., documentation and statistics.

Previous Review Reports and Terms of Reference are available 

Funding Reviews

The purpose of the funding reviews is to:

  • To assess research proposals fairly and based on merit.
  • To review proposals submitted by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs),  National Research Facilities (NFs), Science Councils and other NRF accredited research entities against review criteria described in the scorecard.
  • To provide a quantitative (scoring) as well as detailed qualitative written evaluation of the proposal.
  • To provide a recommendation on whether or not the proposed applicant should be awarded.
  • To provide comprehensive scientific feedback to the applicants.

Both panel and postal review processes are utilised.

Review panels

Review panel meetings include pre-meeting briefing sessions and success is dependent on the integrity, expertise and experience of panel members in their particular fields. Each panel is constituted on directed and thematic areas identified for each particular funding application call. Each panel, which is representative of  the race and gender diversity of the South African research community as well as universities and research institutions, is comprised of an external Chairperson, independent Assessor, discipline-based Reviewers, an NRF Director or Executive Director, Secretariat and a Scribe.

Postal reviews

These reviews are conducted by national and international  subject experts of high academic and professional credibility and who are recognised internationally for their research contributions.

Postal reviewers review proposals against set objectives, providing expert opinion on scientific merit and feasibility. In addition, they review the nominated candidate against set criteria and provide a quantitative scoring and qualitative written evaluation of the proposal.