South Africa | University of Oxford
A view of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

South Africa

Oxford has particularly strong personal connections with South Africa, having hosted Rhodes scholars from the country since the early 20th century and Oppenheimer scholars since the 1990s.

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. 

Oxford University Press in Southern Africa

Oxford University Press Southern Africa (OUP SA) opened in Cape Town in 1915, the fifth OUP International Branch to be established. It 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.

South Africa studies at Oxford

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 offers the MSc in African Studies, a three-term, nine-month course designed both as a stand-alone interdisciplinary introduction to current debates about Africa, and as a preparation for doctoral research on Africa. It also runs an active research programme on South Africa and hosts regular seminars and research groups focused on the region and 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.

Research on South Africa at Oxford

Oxford's Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) has studied various aspects of the South African economy. In partnership with South African universities and the South African Reserve Bank, they looked at 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. INET is based at the Oxford Martin School, and is a multidisciplinary research institute dedicated to applying leading-edge thinking from the social and physical sciences to global economic challenges. The programme involves scholars from across the University of Oxford, including the Saïd Business School, Department of Mathematics, Department of Economics, and Department of International Development.

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. Professor Goulder's HIV research 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.

Libraries and museums

Scholars of African studies can draw on the exceptional resources of the Bodleian Library and the University’s museums. The Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House holds extensive research collections on the history, current affairs, culture and anthropology of Sub-Saharan Africa including books in English, Afrikaans, French, German, Portuguese and other European languages. 

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.

Collaborations with South African institutions

Medical Sciences collaborations

Oxford's Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, the University of the Witwatersrand and clinicians at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto take part in the INTERBIO-21st study on nutrition and foetal growth. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study investigates how an adverse intrauterine environment affects growth and development across the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to 2 years of age). An associated project is studying the role of HIV infection in preterm birth and fetal growth restriction.

Social Sciences collaborations

The Oxford Human Rights Hub, which connects academics, practitioners and policy makers around the world working on human rights law issues, has strong links with several South African universities, including Witwatersrand, Cape Town and Stellenbosch. The network also has a visiting fellowship programme as part of a partnership with the Faculty of Law at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa and the Legal Resource Centre, Grahamstown, South Africa (LRC). The hub is led by Oxford's Professor Sandra Fredman, Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States.

Interdisciplinary collaborations

Young Children in the Face of Diversity is conducting ground breaking work on South African children's physical and psychological development, and in informing policy. A research collaboration between Oxford's Department of Psychiatry, the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies and the University of the Witwatersrand, the ultimate aim of their work is to develop interventions to enhance children's early development and support their families. The team have developed effective strategies to help mothers talk about their HIV status to their children, 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. They have 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. They have also 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.

The African Research on Ageing Network (AFRAN) is 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 including 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.

The Diffusion of Innovation in Low Income Countries project looks at the barriers to innovation creation and diffusion in low-income countries (LICs) and how the transfer, adoption and adaptation of knowledge to LICs can produce economic growth and global development. The University of Cape Town is a partner in the project led by Oxford's Professor Xiaolan Fu, Professor of Technology and International Development.

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Project aims to reduce the risk of child abuse in South Africa by creating an evidence-based programme of parenting interventions to reduce child maltreatment. It is led by the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, working in partnership with the University of Cape Town, the South African government, the local Cape Town NGO Ikamva Labantu, and an artist-led humanitarian organisation called Clowns Without Borders. 

Dr Lucie Cluver from the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention recently led a pioneering study of AIDS-affected children, in collaboration with the South African Department of Social Development and the University of KwaZulu-Natal's HEARD programme. 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.

South African students at Oxford

There are currently almost 120 South African students studying at Oxford, the largest number of any African country. The majority are postgraduates, the largest concentration of whom are on taught courses in Social Science.

Scholarships and travel assistance

There are many schemes offering funding for international undergraduate students and particularly funding for international graduate students to study at Oxford, as well as schemes to help students already at Oxford travel abroad.

Scholarships for South African students

South Africans can apply for a range of scholarships which are open to African students, as well as some specifically reserved for Southern Africans.

The prestigious Rhodes Scholarships are open to South African applicants. The scholarships are awarded to outstanding all-round students and cover the costs of graduate study at Oxford. The Rhodes Trust is also involved in the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, an initiative honouring Nelson Mandela that helps African students undertake postgraduate study in South Africa.

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.

The Africa Educational Trust (AET) runs the Kenneth Kirkwood Fund, which 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. The fund was established in 1998 in 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. 

Student societies

The Oxford University Africa Society (AfriSoc or OUAS), founded in 1959, focuses on African affairs at the University of Oxford. AfriSoc seeks to set the agenda for the future of the African Continent by providing a platform for students hailing from or interested in Africa to critically engage. Above all, AfriSoc is a community of change agents passionate about Africa.

The Oxford African and Caribbean Society is Oxford's largest society for African and Caribbean students. Its members consist of undergraduates to postgraduates, scientists to lawyers from nations all over Africa, the Caribbean and beyond. They are committed to exploring, promoting and celebrating African and Caribbean culture within Oxford University. 

South African academics at Oxford

There are currently a total of 24 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 Associate Professor in Engineering Science. 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 led 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.

Oxford alumni in South Africa

There are currently over 1,300 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.

Notable South African alumni

Prominent South African Oxonians of the past century have included:

  • 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.
  • Bram Fischer, the anti-apartheid activist and lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela at his treason trial
  • Dr Frene Ginwala, former Speaker of the first post-apartheid parliament, the South African National Assembly
  • Piet Koornhof, who was a cabinet minister during apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Kumi Naidoo, former International Executive Director of Greenpeace
  • Max Price, the current Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town
  • Pixley Seme, founder of the African National Congress