An organisation that supports innovation

The National Research Foundation is the intermediary agency between the government and those institutions that perform research.

Unlike other science councils, the role of which is research performance, the NRF primarily fulfils an agency role, with a smaller portion of its activity allocated to providing platforms for the research community and to performing research through national research facilities.

The NRF has three main functions:

  • To support research and innovation through its agency, Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (Risa);

  • To encourage an interest in science and technology through its business unit, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (Saasta); and

  • To facilitate research through its competitive research platform provided through the national research facilities.



One of the NRF’s main objectives is to ensure appropriately qualified people and good infrastructure to produce the knowledge that makes South Africa a global competitor.

Funding from the NRF is directed towards basic research, developing human resources and supporting the use of the national research facilities.

Funding opportunities range from students and researchers through to higher education institutions and their staff, scientists involved in research projects with private companies and science councils.

Through Risa, the NRF:

  • Invests in knowledge, people and infrastructure;

  • Develops the workforce, particularly black men and women, to help all researchers unlock their creative potential;

  • Facilitates partnerships and knowledge networks; and

  • Provides science and technology information to guide and steer strategic decisions.



Through Saasta, the NRF:

  • Steers young minds towards careers in science, technology and innovation;

  • Interacts with the public on issues of science, engineering and technology; and

  • Communicates advances in science and technology to the public.



Through the national research facilities, the NRF:

  • Provides access to unique technologies and platforms, research methods and information;

  • Provides state-of-the-art research platforms; and

  • Offers access to networking opportunities and international collaboration.



In 2008, the NRF board approved a strategic plan, NRF Vision 2015, which has the following objectives:

  • Promoting internationally competitive research as a basis for a knowledge economy;

  • Growing a representative science and technology workforce in South Africa;

  • Providing cuttingedge research, technology and innovation platforms;

  • Operating world-class evaluation and grantmaking systems; and

  • Contributing to a vibrant national innovation system.



The seven national research facilities are clustered into three categories based on their areas of specialisation and aligned to the science missions of the national research and development strategy.

Astro, space and geosciences

  • South African Astronomical Observatory: performs fundamental research in astronomy and astrophysics at a national and international level.
    It is the national facility for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa and is also responsible for managing the operations of the Southern African Large Telescope.

  • Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory: was established as the national facility for radio astronomy research in South Africa. Today its primary function is to support research and training in radio astronomy and space geodesy.

  • Hermanus Magnetic Observatory: is part of a worldwide network of magnetic observatories that monitor and model variations in the earth’s magnetic field. It also performs fundamental and applied space physics research and provides geomagnetic field-related services on a commercial basis.



Biodiversity and conservation

  • South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity: serves as a research hub for aquatic biodiversity in Southern Africa by housing and developing the national fish collection and associated resource collections as research tools and sources of aquatic biodiversity data. It also generates knowledge on aquatic biodiversity through interactive and collaborative scientific research and disseminates scientific knowledge at all levels.

  • South African Environmental Observation Network: is an emerging research facility that establishes and maintains nodes (environmental observatories, field stations or sites) linked by an information management network. These nodes serve as research and education platforms for long-term studies of ecosystems that will advance our understanding of ecosystems and enhance our ability to detect, predict and react to environmental change.

  • National Zoological Gardens of South Africa: is the facility for research in terrestrial biodiversity and an active participant in related research. It houses one of the largest animal collections in the world, operates three breeding centres and has almost 8 000 hectares available at different locations for its activities.



Nuclear sciences

  • iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences: provides advanced, viable, multidisciplinary facilities for training, research and services in the fields of subatomic nuclear science and applied radiation medicine.

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