The mandate of the National Research Foundation (NRF) stipulates that the organisation supports and promotes research in the broadest sense. The annual NRF Awards ceremony recognises South African scientists for their achievements as indicated through the NRF rating system. In addition to the rating-linked awards, special recognition awards provide a platform to honour researchers for career achievements and contributions to knowledge creation and dissemination, as well as capacity development and transformation in the national research system.

Award categories

Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers

Awarded to full-time final year NRF-funded (all categories) doctoral students who have achieved outstanding academic performance, and demonstrated the potential for contributing significantly to the National System of Innovation.

Research Excellence Award for Early Career / Emerging Researchers

The Thuthuka funding instrument is central to the NRF’s human capital development strategy, and aspires to improve the research capacities of designated researchers with the ultimate aim of redressing historical imbalances. This award recognises current Thuthuka grant-holders who have achieved exceptional research performance.

Excellence in Science Engagement

This award recognises individuals in the research community at South African higher education institutions and science councils who make outstanding contributions to public engagement with science over a sustained period. The aim of the award is to encourage academics, while working in their fields, to also contribute substantially and be committed to enhancing the public's engagement with science, technology and innovation, and the social sciences and humanities.

P-Rated Researchers

Assigned to researchers under the age of 35, who have held a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application. These researchers are considered likely to become future international leaders in their respective fields, on the basis of exceptional potential demonstrated in research performance and output.

A-Rated Researchers

A-rated researchers are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their respective fields for the high quality and impact of recent research outputs.

Champion of Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions

This category recognises individuals within the research community who contribute to the transformation of South Africa’s community and landscape. The aim of this award is to encourage and promote this activity across the South African research community. It should be noted that the award is dependent on the number of students in the designated groups that had been trained, as well as the quality and impact of research outputs of the students.

Hamilton Naki Award

This category honours the challenge of attracting more black scientists moving towards world-class research performance by giving them encouragement and recognition for their efforts to advance their careers in science, despite considerable equity challenges. The award is focused on transforming the science cohort to be more representative of South African demographics.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award honours a deserving South African individual who is considered to have made outstanding or extraordinary contribution(s) to the development of science in and for South Africa over an extended period of time. These contributions must be of international standard and impact.

NRF Excelleration Award for South African Research Institutions

Awarded to the South African Research Institutions in recognition of the most improved research performance over recent years.


Category specific.


Category specific.

Application and nomination procedure

Category specific.

For a list of previous UCT winners of these awards, see UCT Research and Innovation.


For more information regarding these awards, contact