South Africa | University of Oxford
South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa.
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South Africa

The University of Oxford has deep and historic ties to South Africa, most famously through the Rhodes Trust, an educational charity. Cecil Rhodes, an Englishman who became a prominent businessman and politician in South Africa established the 'Rhodes Scholarships' in his will, to support students selected to study at Oxford and certain other universities.

In 2003, to mark the centenary of the Rhodes Scholarships and to continue the historic commitment of the Rhodes Trust to Africa and specifically to leadership development for Africa, the Rhodes Trust joined in the creation of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. The Foundation honours Nelson Mandela and provides scholarships for African students, chosen on criteria very similar to those for the Rhodes Scholarships, to undertake postgraduate study in South Africa.

Oxford today continues to welcome many students and academic visitors from South Africa and is proud of its wide range of research collaborations with South African partners. In addition, Oxford has a presence in South Africa through the Oxford University Press Southern Africa (OUP SA). Opening in Cape Town in 1915, this was the fifth OUP International Branch to be established. OUP SA published its first local title, South African Short Stories, in 1947; a title which remained in print for 50 years. OUP SA is now one of the larger  OUP publishing offices, with a South African staff of 75 and sales offices in Johannesburg, Durban, East London, and Pietersburg. It is also responsible for the territories of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia, and has agents in two of these countries and in Zimbabwe. In addition to developing a South African publishing programme, OUP SA markets, sells and distributes the publications of other OUP offices around the world. South African academics are published locally, or in Oxford or New York.

The study of South Africa takes place in many departments across the University.

African Studies Centre

The study of South African politics, sociology, culture and anthropology mainly takes place within the African Studies Centre, within the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies. Established in 2004, the Centre is the focal point for all graduate level work and faculty research on Africa. The Centre runs an active research programme on South Africa and hosts regular seminars and research groups focused on the region. The Centre also frequently welcomes visiting academics from South African universities. In addition, the Centre sponsors Oxford doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers to teach at Fort Hare Institute of Social and Economic Research in East London. The course they teach is loosely based on the Centre's own Master's programme.

Understanding the HIV epidemic

In the medical sciences, Professor Philip Goulder focuses his research on the South African HIV epidemic, with the principal goal of understanding the role of T-cell immunity in successful long-term immune control of HIV infection in adults and children. The Goulder Group studies groups of children and adults attending clinics in South Africa, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, and also in Kimberley, Northern Cape, in addition to smaller cohorts of HIV-infected study subjects attending clinics in the Thames Valley region in the UK.

South Africa Social Policy

The Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy (CASASP) in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work aims to assist in the eradication of poverty and building of citizenship in South Africa through high quality evidence-based social policy research and training with an international comparative dimension. CASASP works in partnership with the South African government, academic institutions, and non-government agencies that take a similar approach.

New Economic Thinking

INET@Oxford is the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School. It aims to build a broad platform for research collaboration and practical engagement on economic theory and policy making at the global level. The programme involves a wide number of scholars based across the University of Oxford, including the Saïd Business School, Department of Mathematics, Department of Economics, and Department of International Development.

At INET@Oxford, Dr Janine Aron and Professor John Muellbauer collaborate with economists at South African universities and the South African Reserve Bank to study the effects of exchange rate changes on import prices, the consumer price index and micro-consumer prices in South Africa. As well as this econometric modelling, they have derived the first quarterly household wealth stock data for South Africa, and have researched on inflation, monetary policy, and wealth, credit and consumption.

Environmental Change

In the Environmental Change Institute, Professor John Boardman leads a cooperative research project featuring partners from the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University among others. They are investigating land degradation and desertification in the Karoo. Professor Boardman is also a member of the Oxford University Water Security Network.

Exposing Healthcare Inequalities

In the Department of Sociology, Dr David Stuckler was the principal investigator of an important study into healthcare inequalities in post-apartheid South Africa. The researchers demonstrated that the richest provinces, where the largest concentrations of white people lived, received more government funded healthcare than the poorest provinces.

Income Opportunities for South African Women

At the Saïd Business School, a 3 year study into the opportunities afforded to disadvantaged South African women by becoming a members of the Avon cosmetics sales team showed positive results. The researchers found that these jobs provided a relatively good income and put the women in the top half of black females in their community, and brought them in line with male black South African earners.

Libraries and Museums

The University also houses a wide collection of books and items of interest both from and relating to South Africa.

In November 2011, Oxford’s Museum of Natural History was presented with casts of the skull and hand of Australopithecus sediba, a 1.9 million year old hominid species. The casts were presented to the museum by Professor Loyiso Nongxa, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). The casts were taken from two partial skeletons which were discovered in a cave in the ‘Cradle of Mankind,’ north of Johannesburg in South Africa, in 2008.

The Bodleian library has strong links with South Africa through the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies. Among the library’s major collections are included the papers of Cecil Rhodes, papers and records of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and archives of the Mandela biographer Anthony Sampson.

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Clinical Trials for Vaccines

In the Jenner Institute, Professor Helen McShane is leading the development of a new vaccine for tuberculosis. She is working with the South African TB Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) to conduct the world's largest TB vaccination trial in infants. The team has vaccinated nearly 3000 children and is expecting the results to be available by the end of 2012.

Children's Development and Health in Adversity

Working with colleagues at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies and the University of the Witwatersrand Professor Alan Stein's team is conducting ground breaking work on South African children's physical and psychological development, and in informing policy. The ultimate aim of their work is to develop interventions to enhance children's early development and support their families. This research has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, NIH (NICHD), the UK MRC, Saving Brains Grand Challenges, Canada, and The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. With Dr Tamsen Rochat the team have developed effective strategies to help mothers talk about their HIV status to their children. With Professor Linda Richter they have conducted a series of studies in the perinatal period to understand the impact of an HIV diagnosis on the mother and her children, and tested a novel intervention led by peers who have HIV themselves. With Professors Stephen Tollman and Kathy Kahn the team published prize winning research which identified the critical period when the children of very ill mothers (e.g. with AIDS) are at greatest risk of dying and this has had a major impact on policy to protect children. With Professors Shane Norris and Linda Richter they have been investigating the cognitive, social and physiological progress through childhood into the third decade of life - the Birth To 20 (BT20) cohort known as Mandela's Children. BT20 is the largest and longest running study of child and adolescent health and development in Africa and the team have demonstrated the importance of perinatal health and mental health on later development.

Southern African Food System Governance

Dr John Ingram, Oxford Environmental Change Institute's Food Systems Programme Leader, is working with a range of South African stakeholders, including the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University and the South African National Research Foundation, on Food System Governance, Food Security and Land Use in Southern Africa. The project aims to build a community of research skills, closely linked to a range of stakeholders across southern Africa's public and private organisations that can co-design and jointly undertake research on how to improve southern African food system activities and enterprises to enhance food security and land use outcomes in the face of future challenges.

Preventing Child Abuse and Studying the Impact of the HIV Epidemic on Children

The University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention (CEBI) has teamed up with the University of Cape Town; the South African government; local Cape Town NGO, Ikamva Labantu; and Clowns Without Borders, an artist-led humanitarian organisation dedicated to improving the psychosocial condition of children and communities in areas of crisis through laughter and play, to develop a new prevention programme to reduce the risk of child abuse in South Africa. The Sinovuyo Caring Families Project involves the development and evaluation of an evidence-based parenting programme to reduce the risk of child maltreatment in South Africa.

Dr Lucie Cluver from CEBI recently led a pioneering study of AIDS-affected children, in collaboration with the South African Department of Social Development, HEARD at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2005 they started to follow more than 1,000 children over four years in highly deprived townships in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Their first findings already suggest that children caring for adults with AIDS are just as likely, if not more likely, to have lasting psychological disorders, as well as other problems, such as tuberculosis, as children orphaned through AIDS.  Dr Cluver is now working on a new project to examine non-adherence to an antiretroviral medication routine, in collaboration with the South African government, UNICEF and the University of Cape Town.

Maternal and newborn health

Professor José Villar and Professor Stephen Kennedy at Oxford's Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, in collaboration with Professor Shane Norris  of the University of the Witwatersrand and clinicians at Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, are investigating how an adverse intrauterine environment affects growth and development across the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to 2 years of age) in the INTERBIO-21st Study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  In an associated project, a Rhodes Scholar, Opope Oyaka Wedi, and her supervisor, Dr Joris Hemelaar, a Clinical Lecturer in the department, are studying the role of HIV infection in preterm birth and fetal growth restriction.

Dust Observation

Richard Washington, Professor of Climate Science at the School of Geography and the Environment, is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Cape Town on a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. 'Dust Observations for Models' (DO4Models) aims to collect the first dust source-area process data tailored to climate model grid-box resolution from targete remote sensing and fieldwork in order to develop a new generation of model dust emission schemes. The field component is based in southern Africa: Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

Collaborative projects on Ageing in South Africa

AFRAN is the African Research on Ageing Network, one of three Regional Networks on Ageing organised and supported by the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. It links African researchers with colleagues at Oxford and facilitates research with Oxford and other universities and research organisations. Members of AFRAN include Dr Sebastiana Kalula, who is director of the Albertina and Walter Sisulu Institute of Ageing in Africa, University of Cape Town. Through AFRAN the Institute provides a platform for exchange and capacity building between network members and forges collaborative research and training initiatives.

Lifesaving Mobile Phone Technology

Engineers from Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and Oxford’s Institute for Biomedical Engineering have teamed up with the University of Cape Town jointly to develop a technology that turns low-cost mobile phones into sophisticated stethoscopes which could save thousands of lives in poor countries. The device enables people to record and analyse their own heart sounds using a mobile phone microphone. The patients can then send the data to a specialist for remote monitoring. Clinical trials have been undertaken at the Department of Cardiology at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town with promising results and the team continues to develop the technology. In addition, the group has been awarded one of only six Global Alliance of Chronic Disease grants to fund a new mHealth project for diabetes. This collaboration includes a partnership with Professor Shane Norris from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Oxford Human Rights Hub

Professor Sandra Fredman, Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States at Oxford, leads the Oxford Human Rights Hub network. Its mission is to connect academics, practitioners and policy makers working around the world on human rights law issues. It has developed strong links with several South African universities, including Witwatersrand, Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Currently, the network is working to develop deeper links with Rhodes University to establish a visiting fellowship programme in collaboration with the Legal Resource Centre in Grahamstown. 

Heart Health with Rhodes University

Dr Sunitha Srinivas of Rhodes University recently came to Oxford with an Association of Commonwealth Universities Titular Fellowship to conduct research on heart disease. Dr Srinivas was based at the British Heart Foundation Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention at the
University of Oxford. The Centre carries out research into population approaches for the prevention of non-communicable diseases – i.e. cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The visit was an opportunity to gain better understanding of the Preventable Risk Integrated Model (PRIME): a macro-simulation model designed to estimate chronic disease mortality in a population as a result of behavioural risk factors (poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and alcohol consumption). The proposal written during Dr Srinivas's fellowship was awarded a research development grant from Rhodes University to fund postgraduate student bursaries for two projects envisioned in the proposal. This has resulted in collaborative research with one of the team leaders from the British Heart Foundation, Dr Nick Townsend, who is now a co-supervisor on the two projects.

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There are currently 100 South African students studying at Oxford. The majority are full-time postgraduates, with half of South African students pursuing research degrees. South African students at Oxford can apply for a range of scholarships which are open to African students, as well as some specifically reserved for Southern Africans and South Africans.

The Oppenheimer Fund scholarships were endowed to the University in 1993 by Harry Frederick Oppenheimer, a noted South African businessman, philanthropist, and opponent of apartheid. The Fund promotes links between the University of Oxford and South Africa by assisting South African students wishing to pursue graduate study at Oxford.

One of the scholarship schemes run by The Africa Educational Trust (AET) is the Kenneth Kirkwood Fund which was established in 1998 in honour of the memory of Kenneth Kirkwood, the first Professor of Race Relations and Co-ordinator of African Studies at St Antony’s College. Kenneth Kirkwood was a founding member of the Africa Educational Trust. The fund provides small grants for maintenance, fees or for emergency payments for students from Southern Africa, including South Africa. Both undergraduate and postgraduate students are eligible and priority is given to those students studying subjects which are relevant to the development of their home countries. First consideration is given to students studying at Oxford’s St Antony’s College.


There are currently a total of 17 South Africans working at the University.  The majority of them are in research-focused posts.  

Dr Malcolm McCulloch

Dr Malcolm McCulloch is head of the Energy and Power group, Director of the Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport at the Oxford Martin School and Senior Tutor in Engineering at Christ Church. He is an electrical engineer focusing on sustainable energy technologies. Malcolm has active research programmes in the three sectors of domestic, transport and renewable generation. His research into the domestic sector lead to the creation of a spin-out company called Intelligent Sustainable Energy of which Malcolm is a non-executive director. In the transport sector his focus is on electric and hydrogen vehicles, and he was involved in the development of the Morgan LifeCar – the first ever Hydrogen sports car. In renewable energy generation, he is part of a team developing tidal flow devices and a second related project to develop slow speed direct coupled generators.

Professor Anton Van De Merwe

Anton Van Der Merwe is Professor of Molecular Immunology at the Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and Nicholas Kurti Senior Research Fellow at Brasenose College. He heads up a research group which tries to understand how T cells and Natural Killer cells recognize infected or otherwise abnormal cells.

Professor Van De Merwe is Director of Graduate Studies for the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and Director of the Medical Sciences Graduate School and Doctoral Training Centre. Professor Van Der Merwe received all of his medical training and higher education at the University of Cape Town. This includes an MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), a BSc (Hons) and a PhD in Medicine.


Prominent South African Oxonians of the past century have included:

  • Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who founded the ANC in the early 20th century
  • Bram Fischer, the anti-apartheid activist and lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela at his treason trial
  • Piet Koornhof, who was a cabinet minister during apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s
  •     Frene Ginwala, speaker of the first post-apartheid parliament, the South African National Assembly.

Other key figures include Max Price, the current Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and Rhodes scholar Justice Edwin Cameron, a Constitutional Court judge in South Africa and a former prominent human rights lawyer particularly in the late apartheid era. Justice Cameron is well known for championing the rights of people living with HIV and Aids and was South Africa’s first holder of public office to declare publicly that he was living with AIDS. His exceptional achievements were recognised by Oxford in 2011 when he was awarded an honorary degree in civil law.

There are currently over 1,000 alumni in South Africa. They are catered for by two main alumni groups in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Cape Town has more than 250 members and organises a wide range of events and activities.  The alumni group based in Johannesburg, the OCBASA (Oxford and Cambridge Business Alumni in South Africa), has a business focus and is open to all alumni of Oxford or Cambridge who studied, or are currently engaged in, business.

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