South Africa has announced how it will split university research funding for nine focus areas, which it selected last year. The areas were chosen in an effort to tie research more closely to societal needs.
The allocations (see table) are expected to form the basis for funding by the National Research Foundation (NRF) over the next five years, although grants will be awarded on an annual basis.
Half of this year's NRF budget of R162 million ($20.5 million) will go to peer-reviewed grants for established researchers. The rest will be allocated to other programmes such as the development of new research capacity at technical colleges and historically black universities.
Gerhard von Gruenewaldt, vice-president of the NRF, says that funds were allocated to reflect the value of grant applications received in each area. This 'bottom-up' approach ensures that the government is not dictating a research agenda, he says.
Not all researchers in the country are thrilled with the outcome, and von Gruenewaldt admits that the available funding will support only 70% of the projects that the agency wanted to approve. “This presents us with the challenge of raising a substantial amount of additional resources over the next few years to meet these demands,” he says.
But some researchers complain that the NRF reallocated their proposals into the wrong focus area. Ed Rybicki, a microbiologist at the University of Cape Town, says that this happened to him, and that his proposal was consequently underfunded. “I think the whole process is arbitrary and badly thought out,” he says.