Call for applications: Master's and doctoral scholarships for full-time studies in 2020

Internal closing date:

  • All calls except first-time aplications for master's degrees: 2 July 2019
  • First-time applications for master's degrees: 16 August 2019

The National Research Foundation (NRF) has opened the above call for applications


The NRF is mandated by an Act of Parliament, the National Research Foundation Act (Act No 23 of 1998) to "support and promote research through funding, human capacity development and the provision of the necessary research facilities, in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge".  The scholarships are funded by the NRF core grant allocation from National Treasury, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the International Institution for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for Human Capital Development (HCD). 


Objectives of the programme

  • Support the development of a critical mass of globally competitive human resources in prioritised areas.
  • Promote and advance science, research and innovation.
  • Contribute towards the increase in the number and quality of South African postgraduate students in all areas of (i) Science, (ii) Engineering and (iii) Technology, and in the (iv) Social Sciences and (v) Humanities, at the master's and doctoral levels in South Africa.
  • Build a pipeline of the next generation of skilled scientists and researchers in South Africa.
  • Provide exposure to local, regional and international research programmes in order to build long-lasting collaborative contacts.
  • Effect transformation in the percentage representation of postgraduate students from designated groups viz. black, female and persons with disabilities.
  • Support the development of postgraduate training to meet the specific needs of the country in collaboration with international partners, the higher education sector and industry.

Areas of support

The scholarships are intended to support master's and doctoral candidates to pursue research studies in all areas of Science, Engineering, Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, including Priority Research Areas at public universities. The table below presents the breakdown of the broad disciplines supported by the NRF: 

Broad disciplines supported for master's and doctoral scholarships

Accounting, Actuarial Science, Agricultural Sciences, Astronomy, Auditing, Bioinformatics*, Biotechnology, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Climate Change*, Computer Science, Demography, Drug Discovery and Development*, Earth Sciences, Earth Observation*, Ecology, Economic Sciences, Education, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Financial Management, Functional Genomics*, Geology, (Global Change, Society and Sustainability*), Health Sciences, Information Science, Information Systems, Indigenous Knowledge Systems*, Law, Mathematical Sciences, Marine Sciences*, Medicinal Plant*, Medical Sciences, Nanotechnology*, Nuclear Technologies in Medicine and Biosciences*, Palaeosciences*, Polar Science*, Physics, Renewable Energy*, Social Science and Humanities, Space Science*, Statistics, Transportation Studies, Tourism


NRF-TWAS Doctoral

Extension Support

Masters and Doctoral

  • Must register at a South African public university in 2019 on a full-time basis.
  • May be based at Science Councils and National Research Facilities.
  • Only students pursuing full-time master;s or doctoral studies in South Africa are eligible to apply.
  • Scholarships are open to SA citizens, SA permanent residents as well as a limited percentage of foreign nationals who will register at a South African public university in 2020 on a full-time basis.
  • Only citizens and permanent residents from developing countries in and outside Africa can apply. South Africans are not eligible to apply.
  • Applicants applying for extension support at master's level should have commenced their degree in 2018.
  • NRF master's scholarship-holders who wish to register for Doctoral degrees in 2020 must apply for funding.
  • Visa and immigration laws of the applicant’s home country and South Africa must be met by the applicant. The applicant must secure his/her own Visa or study permit under the programme for study in South Africa. Neither NRF nor TWAS will be responsible for assisting with visa requirements.
  • Applicants must be NRF scholarship-holders in 2019. Extensions will only be provided under exceptional circumstances and will either be granted for six (6) or twelve (12) months as the NRF expects all students to complete their qualifications within regulation time of the funding period.
  • Must be thirty five (35) years or younger on the 31st of December of the year of application for the Doctoral scholarship.
  • Applicants applying for extension support at doctoral level should have commenced their degrees in 2017.


  • May not be living, studying or working in South Africa at the time of application.



Students who are not eligible for support 

  • Students who already hold NRF funding for master's (in 1st year of funding) or doctoral studies (in 1st or 2nd year of funding) are not eligible apply, but should submit a Progress Report (PR) to renew funding for the following year as per the Conditions of Grant.
  • Individuals that already hold a degree at the level at which they intend studying, are not eligible to apply.
  • Students in their pre-proposal year will not be supported.  The proposal year should also not be counted as the first year of registration.
  • Students who are intending to register for or that are studying for a 100% master's by coursework, professional master's or doctoral degree.
  • Students pursuing master's studies who commenced their degree before 2019.
  • Students pursuing doctoral studies who commenced their degree before 2018.
  • Individuals that will be in full-time salaried, contractual or permanent employment while pursuing master's or doctoral studies.
  • Individuals that are on sabbatical leave from their employment (including those without paid sabbatical leave).


Value of the award

1.      Higher-Value Scholarship (Innovation, Scarce skills) per annum:  

  • Masters – R90 000 pa. for 2 years
  • Doctoral – R120 000 pa. for 3 years

2.      Lower-Value Scholarship (Freestanding) per annum:

  • Masters – R50 000 pa. for 2 years
  • Doctoral  - R70 000 pa. for 3 years 


Application process

All applications are submitted on the NRF Online system at

Late and incomplete applications will be rejected.

The process of master's and doctoral applications has changed. Applications will undergo a college review / vetting before they can be submitted to the NRF. 

Click here for the Application and Funding Guide for 2020.

Click here for the Master's and Doctoral Scholarships for Full-Time Studies Framework 2020 document. 

Click here for the 2020 Application and Funding Guide for first-time master's and doctoral applicants.


* Posted by Mr Tau Moholoopa, Research Grants Assistant.

Publish date: 2019/04/30