The National Research Foundation (NRF) has embarked on a strategic partnership with the FirstRand Foundation (FRF) in introducing a new programme directed at supporting black academics and persons with disabilities at South African public universities.
The goal of the programme is to promote the development of black African South African academics to become established researchers and to gain national and international recognition as researchers.

In addition, the programme will endeavour to support early career academics, particularly black African females and persons with disabilities, to acquire doctoral level qualifications.

It will also assist those employed at public universities to attain postdoctoral research training and build their research profile so as to promote the attainment of an NRF rating.

In this co-funding partnership, the NRF and FRF will equally contribute rand for rand over the five year period bringing the total investment in the programme to R164 983 500.

The first call for applications, under the call name NRF-FRF Sabbatical Grant, was opened in August 2017, which resulted in 43 fellows being awarded the grant for 2018.

Dr Molopo Qhobela, CEO of the NRF, says: “Transformation continues to remain a critical imperative in post-apartheid South Africa, particularly considering the ethnic and gender composition of key sectors of society such as universities.

“The Black Academics Programme is an important intervention for South Africa, as it will contribute directly to addressing the challenges of transforming the demographic profile of academics at public universities. In particular, it will increase the number of black African South Africans that participate in the knowledge enterprise.”

“The partnership and co-funding agreement between the FirstRand Foundation and the NRF is a demonstration that the private sector can work with public institutions to address some of the critical challenges which face the country in support of the National Development Plan. With our significant focus on education, the FirstRand Foundation is very pleased with the partnership with the NRF,” says Sizwe Nxasana, chairperson of the FirstRand Foundation.

In 2009, the Council for Higher Education (CHE) reported that only a third of full-time permanent academic staff (PAS) in public universities held doctoral degrees. In addition, NRF data shows that of the 3 392 NRF-rated researchers in South Africa in 2015/16, only 26% were black and 31% were female. The cohort of black NRF-rated researchers comprised of 16% African, 3% Coloured, and 7% Indian academics and researchers. Black African South African citizens made up only 6% of the NRF-rated researchers and only six of these researchers achieved an A1 or A2 rating.

“The NRF statistics outlined above indicates the precise motivation that black African participation in knowledge production becomes imperative, and transforming the profile of active black researchers in the South African National System of innovation will be a fundamental approach,” says Qhobela.