Human and Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD)

RISA Directorate

Human and Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD)

The Human and Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD) directorate enables the development of individual research capabilities by supporting next-generation and early career/emerging researchers and, institutional research capabilities through the provision of and access to research infrastructures. The directorate contributes towards establishing a transformed (demographically representative), internationally competitive (productive), and sustainable knowledge workforce; and funding globally competitive research infrastructures. HICD strategic objectives are to:

Advance equity and transformation of the next generation of researchers in line with the Department of Science and Innovation-NRF (DSI-NRF) Postgraduate Funding Policy;
Enhance transformation and equity of the early career/emerging researcher cohort thus increasing the size and composition of emerging researchers in line with the Human Capital Development (HCD) Strategy for Research, Innovation and Scholarship (RIS), and the Staffing South African Universities Framework (SSAUF);
Transform, renew and replenish the internationally recognised Leading Researchers and Scholars (LRS) cohort in order to sustain the academy and the science system;
Advance research excellence through enabling access to international research training opportunities for postgraduate students and researchers;
Develop career paths for instrument scientists and research infrastructure operators to ensure optimal utilisation of research infrastructure and platforms; and
Enable state-of-the art research infrastructures to advance globally competitive research and postgraduate training.
HICD Instruments

Human Capacity Programme

The HICD directorate supports individual research capabilities by supporting next-generation and early career/emerging researchers and, institutional research capabilities through the provision of funding and access to research infrastructures.

Next Generation Researchers

DSI-NRF Postgraduate Funding Policy

To address challenges of low progression rates from honours, masters and doctoral studies and longer time to completion, especially among Black and female postgraduate students, the NRF developed a Postgraduate Student Funding Policy. The Policy gives effect to the aspirations of the 2012 Human Capital Development (HCD) Strategy for Research, Innovation, and Scholarship (RIS) and the 2013 Ministerial Guidelines for Achieving Equity in the Distribution of Bursaries and Scholarships.

This Policy is aimed at enhancing equity relating to postgraduate student access, success and throughput, and provides for Full Cost of Study (FCS) support for financially needy students, students with disability and students with exceptional academic performance. Implementation of the Policy commenced in 2020, and with the endorsement of Dr Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, the Policy is now named the DSI- NRF Postgraduate Funding Policy. Ninety five percent (95%) of awards will be made to South African citizens and permanent residents, and 5% to students from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and the rest of the world.

The DSI- NRF Postgraduate Funding Policy, is applicable to all NRF postgraduate funding with a single application process through the NRF Online Application System. The NRF minimum academic requirement for postgraduate funding is 65%. The entry age requirement is 28, 30 and 32 years or younger, in the year of application, for honours, master’s and doctoral studies respectively. Postgraduate students will be funded either at Full Cost of Study (FCS) or Partial Cost of Study (PCS) under the new policy. To ensure equity of access to postgraduate studies, financially needy students (i.e., those whose combined household income is R350 000 per annum or less) and students living with a disability will be funded at FCS. Academic high fliers achieving a distinction or first-class pass will also be eligible for funding at FCS. South African students who are not eligible to be funded at FCS, as well as International students will be eligible for PCS funding.

The FCS will cover tuition fee, accommodation (i.e. university owned accommodation or private rental accommodation), living and transport allowance, food allowance and a once-off allowance for an electronic study device. In the event that a student is not residing in university owned accommodation or private rental accommodation, they will be eligible for tuition fee, living and transport allowance, food allowance and a once-off allowance for an electronic study device. The PCS will cover tuition fee and accommodation (i.e. university owned accommodation or private rental accommodation). In the event that a student is not residing in university owned accommodation or private rental accommodation, they will be eligible for tuition fee and a living and transport allowance.

Funding for In-country Post-Graduate Studies

The NRF provides financial support to successful applicants in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) and the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) to obtain a research-based honours, master’s or doctoral degree in South Africa. The in-country scholarships are awarded to students intending to study on a full-time basis at a South African public university. There are several funding categories for in-country postgraduate studies.

DSI-NRF Innovation Postgraduate Funding

The Innovation scholarships supports students enrolled for research-based honours, master’s and doctoral degrees in specified scientific fields. The innovation study fields include: Astronomy, Biotechnology, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Ecology, Engineering, Mathematical Sciences, Medical Sciences, Nanotechnology and Physics. Students in the Social Sciences and Humanities are also supported. Additional DSI Priority Research Areas are, Marine Science, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Bio-Informatics Functional Genomics and Medicinal Plant Research.

Scarce Skills Development Fund (SSDF) Postgraduate Funding

The Scarce Skills Development Fund (SSDF) addresses the severe shortage of critical skills in South Africa. The strategic goal of the National Skills Fund (NSF) is to provide funds to support projects that are national priorities in the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) III, that advance the Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS) of South Africa and that support the National Skills Authority (NSA) in its work. The NSF contributes towards the SSDF for students pursuing postgraduate studies in specific scare skills disciplines. The NRF in partnership with the SSDF supports honours, master’s and doctoral students at public universities and research institutions.

Extension Support Funding

The Extension Support Funding is intended to increase graduation and throughput rates for master’s and doctoral students. Additional funding may be provided for six- or 12 months to existing NRF-supported master’s and doctoral scholarship holders who experience a delay in completing their studies within the NRF funding for masters and doctoral studies respectively. Applications for Extension Support must be supported by the student’s supervisor and consideration for extension support is under exceptional circumstances only.

Professional Development Programme (PDP)

The Professional Development Programme (PDP) is designed to enable outstanding master’s and doctoral graduates to further develop their research capabilities and to gain research experience at public research institutions. This is achieved through the placement of doctoral students and postdoctoral research fellows at Science Councils, National Facilities and public research-performing institutions. The PDP supports doctoral students in keeping with the DSI-NRF Postgraduate Student Funding Policy. The programme is tailored to accelerate the development of scientists and researchers who are poised to contribute to the South African innovation system.

NRF-SASOL Postgraduate Funding

The NRF and SASOL Foundation have partnered to increase industry-academic collaborations and to strengthen supervisory capacity for postgraduate students based at historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs). The NRF-SASOL scholarships are co-funded by the NRF and the SASOL Foundation and are open to South African citizens and permanent residents who wish to pursue studies in Chemistry and related disciplines.

Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) Programme

The DSI and NRF offers doctoral and master’s scholarships to students based at South African public universities, through the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) Programme. SASAC is a multi-year initiative developed by the DSI and NRF as part of its membership of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Under this funding programme, master’s and doctoral students conducting their research through the application of systems analysis methodology are supported. The six focus areas under this program, which form IIASA’s ongoing research agenda include: 1) Advancing Systems Analysis; 2) Economic Frontiers; 3) Energy, Climate and Environment; 4) Biodiversity and Natural Resources; 5) Population and Just Societies, and 6) Strategic Initiatives.

NRF-TWAS Doctoral Funding for Inbound International Students

NRF and the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) have partnered to support doctoral students from Africa and developing countries to undertake full-time doctoral studies at a public university in South Africa. South African citizens and permanent residents are not eligible for this funding category. Only applicants who wish to pursue research under the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines are eligible to apply. Details on the list of eligible developing countries and the list of priority countries are published in the annual Call documents. All international students will be funded at PCS which will include Tuition fees and Accommodation allowance only.

Global Knowledge Partnerships (GKP) for International Training

International exposure for postgraduate students is an integral component of the NRF strategic goal to create an internationally competitive, transformed and representative South African research system. The NRF intends to source new, and realign existing support programmes to offer opportunities for outstanding doctoral students in South Africa to spend from three (3) to 12 months abroad. The international training opportunity will enable outstanding doctoral students to enhance their theoretical and practical knowledge; to form international networks; and to access mentorship and global research funds and infrastructures.

NRF-DAAD Postgraduate Funding

The NRF in partnership with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), offers scholarships for postgraduate studies at master’s and doctoral levels to South African citizens and permanent residents for enrolment at South African public universities. Eighty percent (80%) of awards are made to students from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines and 20% from the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). The benefits of being an NRF-DAAD In-Country Scholarship-holder include the option to:

Obtain a postgraduate degree in South Africa, but still gain international research experience in Europe;
Apply for a mobility grant for a short-term research fellowship of three (3) to six (6) months in Germany;
Participate in one of six interdisciplinary summer schools on offer in Germany during the funding period; and
Participate in an annual networking conference in South Africa hosted by the DAAD Information Centre Johannesburg.

French South African Technology Institute (F’SATI)

The French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) is an academic cooperation between France and South Africa for teaching, research and development that contributes to knowledge creation and transfer of technology in the Southern African region. F’SATI functions as a collaborative programme with the involvement of a number of partners in South Africa and in France. Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) is the South African host university and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is the South African co-hosting university. French partner institutions are University of Paris-Est, Creteil (UPEC), ESIEE, University of Montpellier and the Paris Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIP).

F'SATI receives support from the DSI-NRF and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI) for the training of postgraduate students in engineering. Postgraduate funding applications must be submitted on the NRF Online Submission System and students must be intending to register at TUT or CPUT.

NRF-Nuffic Doctoral Programme

The NRF co-funding partnership with the Nuffic supports institutional level agreements between Dutch and South African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in order to enable full-time joint doctoral degrees through the split site mode. Participating SA universities and Dutch HEIs under this programme will need to enter into a memorandum of understanding to offer joint degrees. The period of funding by the NRF under this programme will be four (4) years (i.e. three (3) years spent at a South African university and twelve (12) months at a partner Dutch HEI. The overall percentage of students supported through this funding instrument will be 80% from the Science, Engineering and Technology and 20% from the Social Sciences and Humanities.

All South African students receiving NRF funding for doctoral studies in South Africa are encouraged to incorporate a period of international training that forms an integral part of their doctoral training programme. International training opportunities must be identified and financed in consultation with the support of the doctoral supervisor(s) and the university. The NRF will facilitate international training opportunities but will not fund these placements. The existing international training opportunities for NRF funded doctoral students are outlined below.

Fulbright Visiting Student Researchers

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program in partnership with the NRF supports Visiting Student Researchers to undertake non-degree doctoral research training at a university in the United States of America. South African citizens and permanent residents with a minimum of five (5) years of permanent residency status in South Africa may apply annually for support under the Fulbright Visiting Student Researcher programme for up to 12 months. Applications for the Fulbright Program open annually between January and May. More information on how to apply, may be obtained on the US embassy website by using the link below.

South African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC)

The South African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) initiative provides an opportunity to NRF funded in-country doctoral students who are registered at South African public universities to advance their research under the supervision of senior researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and South Africa. South African students are eligible to apply to IIASA for an international placement at IIASA in Austria for a period of three (3) months to advance their research in systems analysis related fields.

Emerging Researchers

Emerging researchers consist of postdoctoral fellows and Emerging /Early Career Researchers (ECRs) who occupy research or academic positions. Among the ECRs are knowledge workers who have not yet obtained doctoral qualifications. They also include NRF Y–Rated Researchers i.e. individuals who are recognised as having the potential to establish themselves as researchers within a five-year period after the rating evaluation.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

The HICD directorate supports postdoctoral fellowships to promote research and research capacity development in all fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). The percentage of fellowships awarded towards the STEM disciplines will be between 70 to 80%; and between 20 to 30% for the SSH disciplines. Fellowships are open to South African citizens and permanent residents as well as international applicants who intend to undertake full-time research at a public university or research institution in South Africa. The objectives of the postdoctoral fellowships are to:

Enable recently qualified doctoral graduates to gain further research experience and to thereby improve their prospects of employment in the science and technology system;
Develop a cohort of high-performing emerging/early career researchers in order to renew and replenish the research workforce; and
Effect a transformation in the demographics of the research workforce in South Africa by supporting Black and female emerging/early career researchers and those that are living with a disability.

The following postdoctoral fellowships are offered:

NRF Freestanding Postdoctoral Fellowships

Priority areas supported are: Natural Sciences, Engineering, Technology, Social Sciences, and Humanities.
Fellowships are open to South African citizens and permanent residents as well as foreign citizens, from the African continent and other countries, intending to undertake postdoctoral research in South Africa.

Innovation Postdoctoral Fellowships

Priority areas supported are: Biotechnology, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Engineering, Computer science, Physics, Astronomy, Mathematical Sciences, Nanotechnology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Ecology, Medical sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.
Fellowships are open to South African citizens or permanent residents and foreign citizens, from the African continent and other countries, intending to undertake postdoctoral research in South Africa.

Scarce Skills Development Fund Postdoctoral (SSDF) Fellowships

Priority areas supported are: Management: Financial Management; Financial sector: Accounting, Auditing, Statistics, Actuarial Science; Biological sciences: Biotechnology; Physical sciences: Mathematical Sciences, Physics, Geology, Computer Science, Information systems, Chemistry; Engineering: All fields of Engineering; Sector specific: Agricultural Sciences, Transportation Studies, Tourism, Demography.
Fellowships are open to South African citizens and permanent residents only.

Professional Development Programme (PDP)

The Professional Development Programme (PDP) is designed to enable outstanding postdoctoral research fellows to further develop their research capabilities and to gain research experience at research performing public research institutions in South Africa. This is achieved through a three-year fixed term appointment of postdoctoral research fellows at Science Councils, National Facilities and public research-performing institutions.

PDP Postdoctoral Fellowships are open to South African citizens and permanent residents only.
Support for Early Career Researchers in Research or Academic Positions

Thuthuka Research Grant

Thuthuka is a partnership programme, with South African public universities, Research Councils and other public research institutions, to advance the equity and redress agenda within the research sphere by supporting emerging/early career researchers in full-time, permanent or fixed-term contract appointments. The programme aims to develop human capital and to improve the research capacities of researchers mainly those from designated groups namely African, Indian, Coloured, female and persons with a disability. Grants are limited to academics and researchers, with academic and/or joint academic and administrative professional appointments at public universities, Science Councils and other research institutions.

Host institutions must commit to providing matching funding for running expenses in a 1: 1 ratio between the NRF and the host institution. There are three (3) tracks under Thuthuka, namely:

PhD Track - for applicants intending to obtain a doctoral degree within the six years funding period and may access a further three (3) years of funding in the Post-PhD track;
Post-PhD Track - for applicants intending to become established researchers, by strengthening their research capabilities within the six (6) years period; and
NRF Rating Track - for applicants wanting to apply for an NRF rating within the six-year funding period. Individuals who have worked in an environment where it was not possible to become an established researcher or due to family responsibilities may also apply in this track.

Black Academics Advancement Programme (BAAP)

The Black Academics Advancement Programme (BAAP) is a directed intervention aimed at promoting the development of Black academics, specifically Black South African citizens including academic staff with disabilities, by accelerating the training of doctoral and post-PhD candidates to enhance their research training and accelerate their progression to become established researchers. The programme, in partnership with the FirstRand Foundation (FRF) seeks to promote the research development of emerging/early career researchers, employed at South African public universities, from the pre-doctoral level to the attainment of an NRF rating.

Host institutions must commit to releasing the applicant from all teaching and administrative duties for the full period of the BAAP grant. There are two (2) tracks under BAAP, namely: The Doctoral track in which applicant’s may apply for one of the following:

A three-year grant to undertake and complete a Doctoral degree;
A one- or two-year grant if the Doctoral degree is near completion; or
A three-year grant to spend at least one year completing the Doctoral degree and the remaining period undertaking Post-PhD research training.

The Post-PhD track in which applicant’s may apply for a one- or two-year grant to undertake a period of Post-PhD research training that must include a period of research training at an international university or research institution outside of South Africa, or in industry.

New Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP)

The New Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP) is one of four (4) core programmes under the Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework (SSAUF), aimed at recruiting new academics against carefully designed and balanced equity considerations and academic disciplines of greatest need. The nGAP Research Development Grant (RDG) focusses on providing start-up funding to newly appointed nGAP scholars. As such, the nGAP RDG provides funding for nGAP scholars in the first and second year of appointment in order to enable these scholars to develop and submit applications that will successfully compete for funding under Thuthuka and other competitive research grant funding.

Research Infrastructures

As the grant-making division within the NRF, the Research and Innovation, Support and Advancement (RISA) unit translates the science and technology strategies and policies of government into initiatives that support research, researchers and the provision of world-class research infrastructure. The development and retention of high-end scientific and technological skills and competencies within public universities and research institutions, is also essential for South Africa to transform into a knowledge-based economy.

Multi-user research equipment funding

The HICD directorate supports the acquisition of state-of-the-art multi-user research equipment through the National Equipment Programme (NEP) and the Strategic Research Equipment (SRE) programme. These research infrastructures require substantial financial investment for its acquisition and operational costs and is usually too costly to be acquired by institutions individually. To prevent the delay in the deployment of research equipment due to infrastructural constraints that arise from inadequate cash flow at institutions, the NRF make available Infrastructure Bridging Funding (IBF). All equipment funded under the NEP and SRE is included on the Research Equipment Database developed by the DSI and NRF. This database enables potential users to identify equipment that is not available at their institutions but is accessible elsewhere in the country, for access to the equipment. The database also serves to stimulate new applications for research infrastructure and to inform continued investment in research infrastructure and platforms.

National Equipment Programme (NEP)

The National Equipment Programme (NEP) is founded on the basis of equipping South African research institutions with state-of-the-art research equipment that are enablers for advancing the national Research and Development (R&D) agenda. The objective of the NEP is to provide cutting edge equipment for research and technology infrastructure required to ensure the competitiveness of the South African research community. This investment in research equipment aims to: (i) accelerate innovation and to improve the quality of research conducted; (ii) expand on existing institutional capacity and on research and training; and (iii) promote national as well as regional collaborations in line with national research priorities.

The NEP aims to support the acquisition, upgrade or development of state-of-the-art research infrastructure in the broad fields of Science, Engineering and Technology. The applying institution must provide funding towards the purchase of the equipment at a ratio of 2:1, noted as -NRF: Applying Institution. The NRF grant awards will not exceed R10 million per application and will cover two thirds of the total cost of acquisition. The cost of the equipment applied for, excluding the service contract, may not be less than R1 million and, the total cost of acquisition must include a three-year maintenance plan.

Strategic Research Equipment (SRE)

The Strategic Research Equipment (SRE) funding is aimed at bridging the gap between NEP investments and the investment areas proposed in the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) which is geared toward a more strategic, top-down evaluation of investments required to support key strategic priorities for research and development. The SRE funding instrument includes equipment that is not only able to advance the frontiers of science, but is also able to address the development of scarce skills; attract industry investment and involvement; and drive scientific and technological productivity and research in national priority areas.

The SRE funding instrument aims to: (i) support the acquisition, or development of large research infrastructure that facilitates internationally competitive research in an area in which South Africa excels and/or has a distinct advantage; (ii) establish research infrastructure in support of human capital development including technical and applications expertise; (iii) establish research infrastructure in support of research and innovation with a potential for socio and/or economic impact; and (iv) promote the leveraging of other investments in support of the research enterprise in South Africa.

The SRE grant will contribute toward only the purchase or development of the equipment; and will range from R15 million to R35 million spread over a maximum of three (3) years for effective cash flow management. Additional resources will need to be invested by the institutions to provide the necessary physical infrastructure, services, utilities, technical staff, maintenance, and support facilities such as information technology for the equipment. Given the size and complexity of the equipment, this funding instrument is designed to support only applications from a consortium of research institutions. A consortium is defined as: A group of research institutions that comprises of a Lead Institution, a Hosting Institution where appropriate, and Member Institutions that assume joint responsibility for the procurement and long-term sustainable administration, management and replacement of the equipment, through a single contractual agreement between all consortium members and the NRF.

Infrastructure Bridging Funding (IBF)

The Infrastructure Bridging Funding makes available, in the form of a grant, non-interest bearing funds, to support research equipment and/or physical infrastructural requirements needed to support either the acquisition or upgrade to state-of-the art research equipment or platform research projects in strategic areas.

Access to Global Infrastructure (AGI) Funding

The NRF provides funding for Access to Global Infrastructure (AGI) to enable researchers to access mega-infrastructure facilities that are not available nationally such as synchrotron radiation facilities and other global research infrastructures. AGI is an essential mechanism for South African researchers to achieve international competitiveness in knowledge generation, innovation and human capital development. Access to such infrastructure forms part of global efforts to address key sustainable development challenges such as poverty-related communicable diseases, food security and climate change. Such access is provided through membership and/or collaboration agreements between South Africa and the particular institution managing a particular research infrastructure facility.

The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR)

The Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (JINR) is an independent, multi-national research agency located in Dubna, Russian Federation. The JINR conducts both theoretical and experimental research, mainly in the fields of elementary particle physics, nuclear physics and condensed matter physics. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the DSI and JINR enables mutual co-operation between the DSI and JINR with regard to their efforts in scientific and technological research and development. The SA-JINR grants are divided into postgraduate SA-JINR student practice, and three-year research grants for local-based SA-JINR collaborative projects with mobility support built in.

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF)

The aim of the NRF- European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) Agreement is to provide the South African research community with the opportunity to access world-class research infrastructure platforms and facilities to perform cutting edge research. The NRF-ESRF Agreement grants Associate membership to South Africa and facilitates access, for the South African research community, to beam time allocation of 0.33% per annum. Researchers must apply directly to the ESRF for access to the Synchrotron facility, and to the NRF for additional mobility funds under the Equipment-Related Travel and Training Grants (ERTTG) call.

Equipment-Related Travel and Training Grants (ERTTG)

The objective of the Equipment-Related Travel and Training Grants (ERTTG) is to provide mobility funding for researchers, technical staff and postgraduate students to access state-of-the-art research or specialised equipment, within South Africa or abroad, that is not available at their own research institution, or other institutions regionally or nationally.

This could be funding for either the attendance or hosting of practical workshops that are focussed on training users on the use of state-of-the-art equipment acquired either through NRF infrastructure grant awards or feeder equipment that complements the capabilities of equipment acquired either through NRF infrastructure grant awards. Calls for applications are considered bi-annually.