Postgraduate Funding For STEM Careers Revealed

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Through the National Research Fund, the Department of Science and Innovation has implemented postgraduate funding programmes. The details on how these funds will be allocated were recently explained in a parliamentary hearing.


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At this stage, the National Research Fund (NRF) accounts for roughly 95% of postgraduate students supported through Programme 4. 

The Ministerial Guidelines In Improving Equity

In 2013, the Ministerial Guidelines in Improving Equity were adopted. The principles of these guidelines focus on representation, improved efficiencies and the prioritisation of science, engineering and technology-related disciplines.

Equity guidelines for postgraduate funding are as follows:

  • 87% South African - including 80% Black, 55% Women and 4% people with disabilities
  • 13% International students 

From 2017 to 2021, the percentage of these target groups funded has increased. The total percentage of South African black students increased from 70% to 81%, South African women increased from 53% to 59% and South African black women from 42% to 50%.

Despite these positive results, there have been a number of key challenges faced since the adoption of these guidelines in 2013.

These challenges include:

  • Low progression rates of students from Honours programmes to Masters and Doctoral Programmes
  • Long time to completion and advanced age at completion
  • Transformation
  • The current bursary amounts are not comprehensive 
  • The funding of financially needy students at postgraduate levels
  • There is no policy synergy with NSFAS, as NSFAS only provides funding for undergraduate studies 

A New Policy Implemented To Combat These Challenges

To combat these challenges, the 2020 DSI-NRF Postgraduate Funding Policy: Strategic Interventions was established.

These interventions include:

  • Postgraduate students will be funded from the Honours level until the Doctoral level without interruption 
  • The funding of full-time studies will be prioritised
  • An age limit of 35 has been set to achieve a Doctoral qualification
  • Postgraduate funding pipeline for NSFAS undergraduate students 
  • 95% of postgraduate funding will be allocated to South African citizens and permanent residents
  • 90% and 55% of funding will be allocated to black students and female students respectively
  • Fit-for-purpose financial packages will be provided for postgraduate students 
  • Students with financial need, students with a disability and exceptional academic achievers will be funded at full-cost study
  • Alignment with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) undergraduate bursary scheme for students at public universities 

Recent Outcomes Of The DSI-NRF

In the 2022 academic year targets were met for the funding of South African citizens and permanent residents (95%), women (61%) and students with a disability (1,4%). The target of 90% for students of colour was not met, with only 85%. However, it did increase from 81% in the 2021 academic year.

The NRF supports students across all disciplines, however, a large proportion of students are in the Science, Engineering and Technology field, with the majority of these students studying Biological & Chemical Science (26%) and Medical & Health Sciences (13%).

A drawback of this new approach is the impact that it has had on the number of students funded. This is largely due to an increase in bursary values and an annual inflationary increase. While these numbers are increasing, the budget allocation from the DSI is not.


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There is no disputing the fact that everybody can benefit from studying further. Choosing to improve on your current education and skill level is always a good decision to make. However, when it comes to choosing to purse postgraduate studies there are a number of pros and cons.


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