Medical student in lab coat
Medical students studying bones and cartilage in the Medical Centre, Oxford.
(Image credit: Oxford University Images / Rob Judges Photography).

Sub-Saharan Africa region

A significant amount of research at Oxford is carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa or with partners in the region, with Kenya and – in particular – South Africa being the outstanding partners there.

One of the University's foremost links to Sub-Saharan Africa is the network of medical research units run there by Oxford’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health. These include the KEMRI–Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) in Kenya, one of the leading medical research centres in Africa. The unit works on locally relevant health conditions, collaborates with local partners, trains health academic leaders and informs local and international health policy.

Oxford University Press (OUP) is also very active in the region. In South Africa and in the Central and East Africa regions, it is the leading dictionary and literacy publisher. Oxford University Press South Africa was begun in 1915, and was the press’ fifth international office; Oxford University Press East Africa, which also serves Central Africa, opened in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1954.

Sub-Saharan Africa studies at Oxford

Teaching and research on the region take place across the University.

Oxford’s African Studies Centre is one of the world’s leading centres of African Studies and the University’s focal point for graduate work and faculty research on Africa, with around ten faculty members working across the social sciences and the humanities. The centre offers an MSc in African Studies, a combined MSc and MBA programme with the Saïd Business School, and a doctoral programme in Area Studies.

The Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) is a cross-University network established to bring Oxford’s long-standing, multi-disciplinary engagement with Africa under one platform. AfOx aims to ensure Africa remains a strategic priority for the University. It facilitates sustainable and equitable partnerships between researchers in Africa and Oxford and works to develop ways of increasing the number of African students studying at Oxford and of increasing the University’s engagement with institutions in Africa. AfOx also offers grants for researcher mobility.

The interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), established in 1986, conducts research on economic and social development in Africa. The large team of development economists at the centre research not only countries in Africa, but also in other developing areas of the world. The centre also supports research elsewhere by making comprehensive data available to others.

Finally, Oxford’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages offers some coverage of the cultures and literature of French- and Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa.

Libraries and museums

Taharqa’s Shrine, built by the pharaoh Taharqa in 680BCE in what is now Sudan, is the centrepiece of the Ashmolean Museum’s Dynastic Egypt and Sudan gallery. Brought to the Ashmolean and re-erected there in the 1930s, the shrine is the only intact Egyptian building in the UK.

The Bodleian Libraries have a large collection of the papers of individuals and organisations connected with Africa, particularly with former British colonies there. Much of the collection consists of the papers of former colonial administrators, but also includes the papers of individuals such as Cecil Rhodes and Archbishop Trevor Huddlestone, and of organisations such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, an Anglican missionary organisation formed in 1701.

The Pitt Rivers Museum has a number of photographic collections related to Africa, including one of the earliest sets of photographs of the African interior, taken by Richard Buchta in the 1870s. The museum also holds a collection of 20th century photographs taken by the explorer Wilfred Thesiger that covers Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Collaborations with institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Humanities collaborations

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) runs a scheme of visiting professorships for humanities academics from countries in the ‘Global South’. Set up in 2015, the scheme funds one academic per year to visit Oxford for a term, where they are hosted at All Soul’s College. Past African recipients of the professorship have included academics from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and South Sudan.

TORCH also runs the AfOx-TORCH Visiting Fellowships together with the University’s Africa-Oxford Initiative. The scheme aims to connect world-leading researchers based in African institutions to humanities scholars based at Oxford. Past fellows have included visitors from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences collaborations

Astrophysics at Oxford is a leading partner in the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project to build the world’s largest radio telescope, half of whose sensors will be located in South Africa. The SKA will be a transformational scientific instrument because of the speed and detail of its coverage of the sky, with a total collecting area of more than a square kilometre. Oxford teams are involved in receiver and software design, and in planning for scientific exploitation of the data. The SKA is one of the UK’s key strategic science projects for the coming decade.

Medical Sciences collaborations

The HIV Research Group at Oxford’s Department of Paediatrics has conducted research on AIDS in South Africa for over 20 years. Their work focusses on HIV and the immune system, aiming ultimately to find a way of curing HIV infection. The group works in South Africa with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the national Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), and the Africa Health Research Institute.

Social Sciences collaborations

Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment coordinates a number of projects to improve water services in rural Africa. Their work combines the remote monitoring of handpumps with a model for delivering and funding the timely servicing of water handpumps and small piped water schemes. The work now forms part of Uptime, a consortium for delivering reliable water services to over one million rural people in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Kenya and Uganda.

The Accelerating Achievement for Africa’s Adolescents Hub aims to determine what social interventions are most effective in improving the lives of children and adolescents in Africa. The project is jointly led by Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the University of Cape Town, which also have several long-standing projects investigating interventions to benefit young people and families in South Africa. The Accelerate hub is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF), and works with a number of other institutions and national governments in Africa, and with international organisations such as UNICEF and the WHO.

Other initiatives

The Sudanese Programme, run by Dr. Ahmed Al-Shahi of Oxford’s St. Antony’s College, was set up in 2002 with the aim of providing a neutral forum for the discussion of Sudan (now Sudan and South Sudan) and the conflicts occurring there. It has had a close involvement with St. Antony’s College and the University’s Middle East Centre, though it is now established as an independent charity.

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.

Student societies

Oxford has official clubs and societies for people interested in, or who have a connection to, many different countries and regions.

Oxford alumni in Sub-Saharan Africa

Oxford has a large number of alumni groups around the world.

Notable African alumni

Prominent African alumni of Oxford include:

  • Edward Akufo-Addo, former president of Ghana (1970–72);
  • John Kufuor, former president of Ghana (2001–9);
  • Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, former prime minister of Ghana (1969–72);
  • Dr Frene Ginwala, first post-apartheid speaker of the South African National Assembly;
  • Sir Seretse Khama, first president of Botswana (1966–80);
  • Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former president of Botswana (1998–2008);
  • Kumi Naidoo, human rights and environmental activist, former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International;
  • Pixley ka Isaka Seme, one of the founders of the African National Congress;
  • Professor Aaron Sloman, Zimbabwe-born pioneering thinker in the area of artificial intelligence.