NRF 25 years: Emeritus Prof Rossouw von Solms

NRF 25 years: Emeritus Prof Rossouw von Solms

This year, the NRF is celebrating a major milestone in our history as we commemorate 25 years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. It gives us great joy to share the accomplishments and impact of the many students and researchers that we have supported during various stages of their careers. We thank all participants for submitting their stories and we hope that you enjoy reading about their journey with the NRF. 

Prof Rossouw von Solms is an NRF B-rated (internationally acclaimed researcher) and Emeritus Professor at Nelson Mandela University. Prof von Solms’s journey with the NRF dates back to 1994 when he received his first NRF Rating.

How did your journey start?

I started studying in 1974 at the University of Port Elizabeth. I enrolled for a BSc with Computer Science and Mathematics as majors. I studied with a bursary from the Cape Education Department, as that was the only way I could get funding to study. I graduated in 1976 with a BSc degree and then enrolled for a Teachers Diploma (HDE) which I completed in 1977. After serving two years (1978 & 1979) in the SADF for compulsory national service, I taught mathematics and science for two years at school.

In 1982, I accepted a Lecturer’s post at the then Port Elizabeth Technikon. I acquired the following qualifications whilst lecturing: NHDip in EDP at PE Technikon in 1984; a BSc (Hons) at UNISA in 1988; an MSc at Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) in 1989; and a PhD at RAU in 1994.

In 1986, I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and in 1989, I was appointed Head of the Department of Information Technology. In 1996, I was promoted to Professor and in 2012 I was made a Distinguished Professor at NMU. From 2006 to 2014 I was the Director of the Institute for ICT Advancement and from 2015 to 2017 (when I retired) I was the Director of the Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security (CRICS).

Thus, my full career was spent in academia. I was primarily a teacher, but gradually became more involved in research, research leadership and mentorship.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

My journey with the NRF (actually with the FRD, the NRF’s predecessor) started in 1994 when I received a Y-rating as a researcher. I started to receive some funding from the FRD/NRF which allowed me to participate in scholarly activities, specifically that of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP). This opened many academic doors for me as I got to know researchers from all over the world in my specialist field of Information Security.

I was the chairperson of IFIP Working Group 11.1 (Information Security Management) at first. Later, I became the IFIP Technical Committee (TC) 11 Working Group Co-ordinator and subsequent to that became the Vice-Chair of IFIP TC11. I also served for many years as South Africa’s representative to IFIP TC 11. This involvement spanned the period from 1995 to 2024 when I resigned as the SA representative.

These contacts helped me to start building capacity within my department and school at the PE Technikon, now known as the Nelson Mandela University (NMU). My NRF rating kept improving and I received the following re-ratings as a researcher: C2 rating in 1999; B2 rating in 2004; B3 rating in 2009; B2 rating in 2015; and another B2 rating in 2021 until 2026. This means that I have been rated by the NRF from 1994 till 2026!

I was told in 2004 that I was the first Technikon researcher to receive a NRF B-rating, after having moved through the various lower rating levels.

As a rated researcher in the early years, I received funding from the NRF that really shaped my career. I also received some NRF scholarships that I gave to some of my postgraduate students. These funding and scholarship opportunities really shaped my future research career. It helped me to successfully attract postgraduate students to supervise and assist in international collaboration.

In later years, many of my postgraduate students received NRF scholarships through the NRF’s scholarship system. If it was not for these scholarships, I would never been able to successfully supervise or co-supervise more than 50 Master’s students and 11 Doctoral students. These NRF scholarships not only assisted me in attracting and supervising students successfully but also helped numerous students, mostly from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, to obtain postgraduate qualifications and start their own flourishing careers.

I also supervised many (about eight) colleagues to Master’s and/or PhD qualifications. This obviously strengthened our department’s lecturing capacity, but more so the research supervision capacity. Five colleagues that I supervised to PhD level formed part of the highly successful research centre, the Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security (CRICS) that I founded. CRICS is still producing high-level research results.

What is your area of expertise?

Although I retired in 2018, I stayed involved with academic, and particularly research activities. From a research point of view, I have always been involved in the field of Information and Cyber Security. To date, I have published 97 journal papers and 140 papers in conference proceedings, both nationally and internationally. Most of these papers I co-authored with postgraduates of mine, of which many were NRF scholarship recipients. Thus, it is clear that the NRF has played a huge role in stimulating and advancing my research career, by supporting me (through my rating) and also my students.

Another precious lesson I have learnt in my early years as a researcher from the NRF is that it is always better to conduct research in a focused research group rather than as an individual. Thus, with the guidance and assistance of the NRF in the early 2000s, I formed a very focused research group in the field of Information and Cyber Security. The members of this group (CRICS) were mostly supervised by me and I am glad and privileged that I could instil solid and sound research values, drive, and culture in those members. Most of these ex-students and colleagues of mine are currently NRF-rated researchers and are still very productive and active researchers.

I am still active in research and have recently been listed by ScholarGPS as the #1 researcher internationally in the field of Information Security. (See: Rossouw Von Solms | Scholar Profiles and Rankings | ScholarGPS).

To date, according to Google Scholar, my research publications have amassed 12 567 citations and I have a h-index of 48. This indicates the high impact of my research.

I have one more personal research goal in life, and that is to publish my 100th research journal paper.

Why is your work/studies important?

My main field of research is Information and Cyber Security. It goes without saying that this is a very important and active field of research currently because of the advancement of information processing technologies. Cybersecurity is continuously in the news, both nationally and internationally, and solutions to related security risks and vulnerabilities need to be researched at an equally advanced pace.

As I have been a B-rated researcher for four cycles, it is clear that the NRF classifies me as a researcher that enjoys considerable international recognition for the high quality and impact of his  recent research outputs.

With nearly 250 research publications to date, which attracted more than 12 000 citations according to Google Scholar, it is clear that my research publications have an international impact.

Also, the fact that I am currently rated the Number 1 researcher internationally in the field of Information Security by ScholarGPS is an indication that my research contributions are internationally recognised and valued.

In summary, it is clear that the research over the course of my career, primarily in the field of Information and Cyber Security, has had an impact internationally and continues to attract the attention of other researchers all over the world. Again, the NRF has played a major role over the past thirty years in assisting me to achieve these accolades.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

The following are some of the research-related accolades I received over my career that made me proud:

  • Received a Literati Award for Excellence in 1999, from MCB University Press, for a series of articles published in the international journal Information Management & Computer Security.
  • Received an IFIP Silver Core Award in 2001 for outstanding services to the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP).
  • South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT) Pioneer Award for contribution to the discipline of Information Security in 2013.
  • Honoured as a Fellow of the Institute for Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) in November 2016.
  • Nelson Mandela University’s Lifetime Research Excellence Award in 2017.
  • IITPSA – Distinguished Service in ICT Award 2019.

Besides these research accolades received, the following achievements have also made me very proud:

  • Every time one of the eleven students I supervised to a PhD degree graduated, especially Noluxolo Gcaza.
  • Every time I received a research rating by the NRF, especially the last four cycles as a B-rated researcher.
  • The academic success of my ‘academic daughter’, Prof Noluxolo Gcaza, whom I supervised during her BTech, MTech and PhD studies. She is excelling in academia and lately founded The Cyberculture Foundation (The Cyberculture Foundation | LinkedIn) and was named one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in 2023 (Noluxolo Gcaza – The Mail & Guardian (
  • Being rated #1 researcher internationally in the field of Information Security by ScholarGPS (May 2024) (Rossouw Von Solms | Scholar Profiles and Rankings | ScholarGPS)

Thank you NRF for your continued support of my academic career, and that of my many research students and research group of over thirty years.

The rights to this article (content and images) are reserved by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED) license: this implies that the article may be republished (shared) on other websites, but the article may not be altered or built upon in any way. Credit must be given to the National Research Foundation and a link provided back to the original article.

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