Knowledge Advancement & Support (KAS)

RISA Directorate

Knowledge Advancement & Support (KAS)

The Knowledge Advancement & Support (KAS) directorate contributes to the promotion and support of research by facilitating the advancement of the frontiers of existing and development of new fields of knowledge, and the necessary associated research capacity in the context of national research, developmental challenges and strategic initiatives.

KAS primarily focuses on the knowledge production activities at the basic research stage of the research-innovation-commercialisation value chain. It complements and works in parallel with the NRF value-chain directorates of Human and Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD); Research Chairs and Centres of Excellence (RCCE).

KAS depends on the cross-cutting units of the NRF and works in close liaison with Grant Management and Systems Administration (GMSA), Reviews and Evaluation (RE), Strategy, Planning and Partnerships (SPP) and others to identify new business partners and initiatives; design new interventions; link with international partners and initiatives; facilitate transfer of knowledge; interact with communities and assess its work.

The specific objectives of the directorate are to:

Facilitate the advancement of the frontiers of existing knowledge;
Facilitate the creation and discovery of new knowledge;
Promote active interaction and collaboration between researchers within and across disciplines and knowledge fields;
Strengthen scientific and professional organisations in the South African research landscape;
Investigate, map, analyse research interests and trends within and across disciplines and knowledge fields; and
Refine or redefine research calls in light of the above development and interventions.
KAS Instruments

Knowledge Advancement and Support Instruments


Competitive Programme for Rated Researchers (CPRR)

The CPRR is a highly competitive discipline-based funding instrument which supports both basic and applied research as the foundation of knowledge production in the disciplines of the Humanities, Social and Natural sciences and Engineering


African Origins Platform (AOP)

The African Origins Platform (AOP) is a discipline-specific funding instrument which supports research and associated human capacity development in the palaeosciences. South Africa’s obvious geographic advantage in palaeontological, paleoanthropological and archaeological research necessitates that the country emerges as a globally leading center for research excellence in these fields of study. This funding instrument seeks to contribute to knowledge production about South Africa’s palaeosciences in the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and the Humanities.


Marine and Coastal Research Programme (MCR)

This is a highly competitive, discipline-specific funding instrument, with specific focus on the research which is based on the Marine Research Plan (2014-2024), and is underpinned by the overarching South African Marine and Antarctic Research Strategy (MARS) of 2015. This funding instrument seeks to contribute to knowledge production about South Africa’s marine and coastal environment, in the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and the Humanities.


Human and Social Dynamics Programme (HSD)

The Human and Social Dynamics in Development funding instrument supports research that addresses developmental problems facing the country as identified by the National Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Overview. This research is intended to be policy and socially relevant i.e. to be able to inform policy and public debate and to identify and examine key issues and options for sustainable human development.


Community Engagement Programme (CEP)

This instrument supports research and activities aimed at improving our understanding of the concept of community engagement and the suite of activities that this implies. This may include inter alia negotiating the terrain of knowledge production as a site of multiple processes and relations; interrogating the ways in which tacit knowledge is surfaced in the complex process of community engagement; and assessing the impact for, and changes in, communities as a result of newly coded knowledge.


African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP)

ACEP is a flagship programme of the DST and the NRF, initiated to provide infrastructure and associated funding support for ecosystem research centred on coelacanths. The initiative was triggered by the discovery of this rare species off Sodwana Bay, South Africa but the scope has since extended beyond coelacanths. The project is implemented through the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), a NRF national research facility.



SANCOR promotes the interests of science in the marine and coastal environments providing a forum for interaction, collaboration and communication for science in the marine and coastal environment, planning for the future, facilitating research, linking funders and researchers, advising on research priorities, contributing to marine policy development, educating and building capacity.


South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP)

South Africa is one of the founding members of the Antarctic Treaty together with 11 other countries. All signatories of the Treaty agree that the Antarctic Continent will be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. South Africa is the only African country with a presence in Antarctica.


National Research Foundation / European Research Council (NRF / ERC)

The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) entered into an agreement with the European Commission (EC), appointing the NRF and the European Research Council (ERC) as implementing agencies for this partnership. The aim of the agreement is to provide South African Postdoctoral researchers opportunities to pursue research collaboration with European colleagues already supported through EU-funded ERC grants. The collaboration is intended to enable South African postdoctoral researchers supported through the NRF postdoctoral fellowships to undertake research visits to ERC-supported teams. It is therefore expected that collaborations will occur in similar areas of scientific pursuit and on topics of mutual interest.


LEAP-Agri: (A long term EU-Africa research and innovation partnership on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture)

The LEAP-Agri partnership builds upon long term collaborations between Africa and Europe. It is exemplified by the support of the ERAfrica and ProIntensAfrica initiatives for this co-fund. The ERAfrica Initiative is an independent consortium of African and European funding organisations building on the success of the former ERA-Net ERAfrica where African and European research agencies financed the joint call. The LEAP-agri partners are pleased to announce the launch of the LEAP-Agri joint call for pre-proposals entitled: African European Collaborative Research on Sustainable Agriculture and Aquaculture for Food and Nutrition Security. This joint transnational research and innovation call is co-funded by the following partnering African and European countries: from Africa: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda, and from Europe: Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey and 1 international organisation, i.e. CIHEAM-Bari based in Italy.


NRF / DFG Call for International Research Training Groups (IRTGs)

The NRF has entered into a partnership agreement with the DFG of Germany to jointly fund International Research Training Groups (IRTGs) between the two countries. IRTGs are structured Doctoral Programmes aimed at training scientists and academics at different stages of their careers, with a particular emphasis on doctoral researchers. IRTGs promote systematic research cooperation through joint research and qualification programmes as well as through cooperative cross-border supervision of doctoral researchers. A central feature of IRTGs is the coordinated and reciprocal research visits by doctoral researchers at the respective partner institutions. The German-South African consortium will first need to submit a joint IRTG draft proposal to the DFG, submitted by the German host university. DFG will evaluate this draft proposal according to established procedures for IRTGs. DFG will inform the NRF of the results of the evaluations, and only positively evaluated proposals will be invited to submit a joint full proposal.


NRF/DFG Preparatory Workshop

The NRF has entered into a partnership agreement with the DFG of Germany to jointly fund International Research Training Groups (IRTGs) between the two countries. IRTGs are structured Doctoral Programmes aimed at training scientists and academics at different stages of their careers, with a particular emphasis on doctoral researchers. A central feature of International Research Training Groups is coordinated and joint research visits by doctoral researchers at the respective partner institutions. DFG and the NRF provide for the possibility to support a joint workshop for the preparation of an IRTG proposal. Funding can be granted only if research cooperation is already established and plans for the IRTG have already been consolidated. Funding for the joint workshops may either be applied for prior to the submission of an IRTG draft proposal or after positive evaluation of an IRTG draft proposal but prior to submission of an IRTG full proposal.


Food System and Climate (FOSC)

FOSC which stands for “Food Systems and Climate”, is implemented as an H2020 ERA-NET Co-fund supporting R&I projects in “Food Systems and Climate Change” which aligns with the scope and expected impacts of the Horizon 2020 Challenges, e.g. Climate change and food systems. Building on earlier experiences such as LEAP-AGRI and JPI FACCE will be guided by strong partnership principles such as equitability, shared governance and long-term commitment from organisations that have established relationships like the Belmont forum. FOSC will pool the necessary financial resources from National Agencies in order to implement a joint call of proposals for a significant size. More specifically, this call is expected to be funded by a consortium of 29 partners from 19 countries.


South Africa and Switzerland, [NRF / Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)] Lead Agency

The NRF is committed to promote international collaboration in advancing research excellence, reflected through agreements with a number of strategic partners. Informed by the long-standing knowledge engagement between South Africa and Switzerland, the NRF has formalised a Lead Agency Procedure (LAP) agreement with the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The principle of the Lead Agency is to allow research funding organisations from two (or more) countries to engage in a cooperation in which one of the organisations involved – the Lead Agency – takes a leading role. The Lead Agency organisation would therefore lead the review and evaluation process to recommend applications for approval. The partner organisation makes its formal funding decision on the basis of the review documentation and the recommendation of the Lead Agency. The respective project parts are then financed by the individual organisations nationally, so that no funds need to be transferred across borders. In the framework of this Lead Agency Procedure agreement the SNSF will be the Lead Agency for this application round, with a deadline in 2021. In this round, the SNSF will implement the entire evaluation and selection procedure in 2021.


NRF/NSF Joint Research Programme on Dimensions of Biodiversity

The United States of America’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate of Biological Sciences and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have formed a partnership to promote opportunities for collaboration between researchers of the United States and South Africa. This collaboration offers United States and South African researchers an opportunity to apply for funding for Joint Research in Dimensions of Biodiversity.


South Africa / China Joint Research Programme

Formal diplomatic relations between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China were established in January 1998. The relations were given impetus in 2001 through the creation of a Bi-National Commission (BNC) to champion bilateral relations in seven sectoral committees, including science and technology. In line with this agreement we are pleased to announce the 12th call for joint research project proposals between South African and Chinese researchers.


South Africa / France Science and Technology Research Collaboration (PROTEA)

The South Africa/France PROTEA Programme is a bilateral incentive programme dedicated to strengthening the South Africa/France collaborative research. It is co-funded by both the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research from the French side, and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) from the South African side. The development of the PROTEA Programme was based on a shared conviction regarding the importance of science, technology and innovation in building and sustaining a knowledge-based economy. The programme is a financial instrument supporting mobility and training of “incoming and outgoing” researchers, contributing to the development of new partnerships and to the strengthening of advanced scientific and technological exchanges between research institutions in South Africa and France.

The Programme therefore provides a springboard for initiating, developing and expanding research projects. The Programme was first launched in 1997 and in December 2017 the two countries celebrated its 20th anniversary and agreed, based on the successes that have been achieved in the past 20 years, to continue investing in and supporting the Programme, hence the launch of the 2021 call for funding. Please note that as of 2020, the PROTEA programme call for applications is launched annually.


Trans-Atlantic Platform Recovery, Renewal and Resilience in a Post-Pandemic World (RRR) Call

The Trans-Atlantic Platform (T-AP) for Social Sciences and Humanities is an unprecedented collaboration between humanities and social science research funders from South America, North America and Europe. T-AP aims to enhance the ability of funders, research organizations and researchers to engage in transnational dialogue and collaboration. T-AP works to identify common challenges and promote a culture of collaboration in social science and humanities (SSH) research by offering joint research calls in areas of strong potential for international collaboration. The Platform facilitates the formation of networks within the social sciences and humanities and promotes interdisciplinary. T-AP also strives to heighten awareness of the role the social sciences and humanities play in addressing 21st century challenges.


Knowledge, Interchange and Collaboration

The main purpose of the Knowledge, Interchange and Collaboration (KIC) funding instrument is to build and maintain excellence in South African research, rather than to only facilitate international collaboration. The promotion of international collaboration through the support of travel opportunities and participation in scientific events, enriched by national learning opportunities and engagements, are important mechanisms towards this goal. The KIC is a competitive funding instrument established to support the internationalisation of research by giving an opportunity to those researchers that are not eligible for other competitive funding for Rated Researchers such as the South African Research Chairs Initiatives (SARChI) and the Centres of Excellence (CoE) Programme.


Conference Fund

The Conference Fund is intended to support the hosting of international conferences focused on excellent scientific research that has potential for socio‐economic impact. This funding platform makes provision for strategic, large events of an international nature, hosted in South Africa, or on behalf of South Africa abroad. The fund will typically support ‘global conferences’ of more than 500 participants. Smaller events can be applied for under the KIC funding instrument of the NRF, published biannually. The overall objectives of this fund are to:

Promote South Africa as a science destination;
Increase the competitiveness of the South African National System of Innovation (NSI);
Showcase South Africa’s scientific endeavors and infrastructure, and to build capacity within the NSI;
Enhance networking within the science system;
Foster international collaboration in order to improve the quality of research outputs by researchers.

International Science Council (ISC)

The International Science Council (ISC) is a non-governmental organisation with a unique global membership that brings together about 40 International Scientific Unions and Associations over 140 national and regional scientific organisations including Academies and Research Councils. Its mission is to act as the global voice of science.

The NRF is the National Adhering Organisation the National Adhering Body to ISC. The South African ISC-Secretariat serves the scientific community and the ISC scientific unions and affiliates to which South Africa adheres. The SA ISC Secretariat provides support and organisational services for the ISC National Board of SA, and to the SA ISC National Committees to advance South Africa’s position in international platforms. The total membership of these committees is in excess of 200 scientists. Approximately 100 South Africans serve on ICS-related commissions and working groups.


Future Earth

Future Earth Global was founded in 2015 as an international research program. It aims to be an inclusive global research and engagement platform that seeks to build knowledge about the environmental and human aspects of global change, and to find solutions for sustainable development. The Future Earth Secretariat is constituted of five global hubs (Colorado, Montreal, Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo), and four regional centres based in Cyprus for Middle East and North Africa, Japan for Asia, U.K. for Europe, Uruguay for Caribbean and Latin America. After a competitive bidding process and numerous consultations South Africa through the National Research Foundation (NRF) was selected to host the Secretariat for the Future Earth Regional Office for Southern Africa (FEROSA). FEROSA is the conduit between the Future Earth Global Secretariat and the Southern African region. As such FEROSA’s primary role is to build and connect knowledge to increase the impact of research, to explore new development paths, and to find new ways to accelerate transitions to sustainable development in the Southern African region. The main aim of Future Earth is to be an inclusive global research and engagement platform in order to build knowledge about the environmental and human aspects of global change, and to find solutions for sustainable development. A basic design principle has been to give voice and influence to expertise and institutions across the globe.


Incentive Funding for Rated Researchers

These grants are used for scholarship and research-related activities of current NRF-rated researchers. There is considerable flexibility built into the administration of the funds to allow researchers to use the funds in various ways in keeping their research activities afloat during the occasions when other funding is scarce.

The funding incentivises excellent research and encourages researchers to:
Subject themselves for rating,
Maintain their ratings once they are rated, and
Attain ever higher ratings until they reach the top rating (A1).

Competitive Support for Unrated Researchers

This is a discipline-based funding instrument which supports basic research as the foundation of knowledge production in all disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. It is aimed at providing support for established researchers who may have lost their NRF rating and/or may be unrated but want to re-invigorate their research portfolio for re-evaluation and evaluation, respectively.


Blue Skies

Described as multi-dimensional self-initiated, curiosity-driven inquiry that necessitates high investment risks, it addresses new phenomena as well as pushes the frontiers of knowledge. Blue Skies-type of research is associated with fundamental and basic research programmes. The objectives of the Blue Skies funding instrument are:

To provide space and time for research to push the frontiers of knowledge and to encourage imagination through scientific and scholarly endeavours
To support and sustain communities of critical and free thinkers
To promote and encourage diversity in research for re-imagining disciplines or academies.
To bring about new and unpredictable scientific, technological, scholarly discoveries, interpretations, understandings and knowledge.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS)

This instrument promotes and supports research to deepen our understanding of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and its role in community life. Although both applied and basic (i.e., epistemological studies) research is encouraged, it focuses on basic research which may undertake, generate patents and be further developed (i.e. innovation and entrepreneurship). Clear evidence of active participation and equal ownership of IKS practitioners and communities in all research activities is a crucial feature of this instrument.


Development Grants

The KFD directorate also has a mandate to stimulate, develop and facilitate the creation and discovery of new knowledge and associated research capacity across the entire spectrum of knowledge fields. Development grants target knowledge fields that have been neglected in the past, are vulnerable or are new and require some initial support.


Development Grants for Y-Rated Researchers

Research Development grants for Y-Rated Researchers are ring-fenced, once-off grants and competitive discipline-based funding instrument aimed at enhancing the efficiency of the National Research Foundation (NRF) to drive our transformation consistently and strategically through supporting primarily basic research as the foundation of knowledge production in the disciplines of the Humanities, Social and Natural sciences


New Earth Observation Frontiers (NEOFrontiers)

New Earth Observation Frontiers (NEOFrontiers) is an innovation funding mechanism established by South African Space Agency (SANSA) in collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF). It seeks to stimulate collaboration, cooperation, and innovation in the South African Earth Observation community, both public and private. The NEOFrontiers funding opportunity is envisaged as a collaborative yet competitive funding mechanism for developing capabilities around new sensors, products and services, and value-added components. NEOFrontiers seeks to achieve its objectives by publishing a call for proposals related to:

Support Actions: short term 1-2 year actions that typically seek to either inform further R&D investment through review/desktop study type actions or seek to develop specific short term capabilities that enable transition of research outputs into downstream operational services.
Domain Development Actions: longer term 2-3 year research and development projects that typically seek to establish new national EO capabilities across the value chain, aiming at long term exploitation and bringing SA closer to the leading edge internationally. Both directed (closely constrained thematically) and Open calls are envisaged.

Research and Technology Fund

The National Research Foundation (NRF) in partnership with Department of Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) invites applications from researchers at South African Universities, Science Councils, other NRF Recognised Research Institutions and DALRRD Provincial Research Centres. The RTF aims to contribute to the following strategic goals:

Improve the funding mechanism for research and innovation;
Develop research partnerships;
Develop new technologies to support small-holder cooperatives in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, technically and in terms of market requirements; and
Conduct commodity-specific research to support improved products in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries sectors.