Call for applications: NRF Postgraduate Student Funding for 2021

Internal closing date (Master's and doctoral call): 17 July 2020

Internal closing date (SARAO honours call): 7 August 2020

Internal closing date (NRF honours call): 27 November 2020

The National Research Foundation (NRF) has opened this call for applications.


The National Research Foundation (NRF) is mandated by an Act of Parliament, the NRF Act (Act No. 23 of 1998, amended) to "contribute to national development by promoting and supporting research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities, in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of research, including indigenous knowledge and thereby contributing to the improvement of the quality of life of all the people of the Republic." In giving effect to its mandate, the NRF is guided by a Transformation Framework that identifies the specific need to focus on transformation of the equity profiles of the South African research workforce; of the knowledge enterprise; of the relationship between science and society; and the building of a diverse and fully inclusive learning organisation.

Areas of support

Postgraduate funding is intended to support honours, master's and doctoral candidates to pursue full-time studies at South African public universities, in all areas of Science, Engineering, Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, including Indigenous Knowledge Systems, focusing on research aligned with one of the National Priority Research Areas. Please the below table:


Broad disciplines supported by the NRF for postgraduate studies are:

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 and Tourism.
NRF-TWAS Doctoral Extension Support Honours, Master's and Doctoral
  • Must register at a South African public university in 2021 on a full-time basis.
  • May be based at Science Councils and National Research Facilities.
  • Only students pursuing full-time Masters or Doctoral studies in South Africa are eligible to apply.
  • Applicants for honours funding must be 28 years of age or younger in the year of application. Only South African citizens and permanent residents are eligible for honours bursaries.
  • Average ≥ 65% Mark in Final Year of study
  • Visa and immigration laws of the applicant’s home country and South Africa must be met by the applicant. The applicant must arrange his/her own Visa and/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 2020. Extensions will only be granted under exceptional circumstances and will be for either six (6) or twelve (12) months as the NRF expects all postgraduate students to complete their qualifications within the NRF funding period.
  • Applicants for master's funding must be 30 years of age or younger in the year of application.
  • Minimum average of 65% all subjects at Honours level; OR Postgraduate diploma; OR final year subjects of a four-year degree
  • Only to citizens and permanent residents from developing countries on the African continent and elsewhere can apply.
  • Applicants applying for extension support at the master’s level must have registered for their master’s degree in 2019 or July 2018.
  • Applicants for doctoral funding must be 32 years of age or younger in the year of application
  • Minimum average of 65% for Masters
  • Must be thirty two (32) years or younger on the 31st of December of the year of application for the Doctoral scholarship.
  • Applicants applying for extension support at the doctoral level must have registered for their doctoral degree in 2018 or July 2017.
  • May not be living, studying or working in South Africa in 2020.

Additional eligibility criteria for NRF-SARAO applicants

Students who wish to pursue postgraduate-level research relevant to the scientific and technical goals of the SKA and MeerKAT radio telescopes, are eligible to apply for the NRF-SARAO scholarships. Only applicants who are South African citizens or permanent residents or citizens of Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia are eligible for NRF-SARAO postgraduate scholarships.

Click here for the application for honours scholarship for 2021.
Click here for the application for master's scholarship for 2021.
Click here for the application for doctoral scholarship for 2021.
Click here for the NRF Postgraduate Scholarships Application and Funding Guide 2021.
Click here for the NRF Postgraduate Scholarships 2021 frequently asked questions.
Click here for the Grants Management and Systems Administration document.

Students who are not eligible for support

  • Individuals that already hold a degree at the level at which they intend studying, are not eligible to apply.
  • Students who will be in their pre-proposal year in 2021 should not apply for NRF Postgraduate Funding for the pre-proposal year. The pre-proposal year should also not be counted as the first year of registration.
  • Students who intend to register for, or who are studying for a 100% masters by coursework, professional master's or professional doctoral degree, may not apply for NRF Postgraduate Funding.
  • Students pursuing master's studies who commenced their degree before July 2019.
  • Students pursuing doctoral studies who commenced their degree before July 2018.
  • Individuals who will be in a salaried (contractual or permanent) employment that exceeds 12 hours of work per week, while pursuing honours, master's or doctoral studies may not hold NRF Postgraduate Funding for full-time studies.
  • Individuals that are on sabbatical leave from their current employment may not apply for NRF Postgraduate Funding.

Financial means test

Applicants will be subjected to a financial means test to determine their financial need. Applicants for NRF postgraduate funding who were previously supported by National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) or the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) will not be subjected to a financial means test, however, they must attach proof in the form of an official university stamped financial statement or signed agreement with NSFAS or ISFAP.

Application process

All applications are submitted on the NRF online system:

Late and incomplete applications will be rejected.

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

Posted by Mr Tau Moholoopa (



Publish date: 2020/06/30