Current Postgraduate and Research Focuses

Current Postgraduate

‘Response to Need’ and ‘Interdisciplinarity’ UWC research has had a major impact on South Africa since the end of apartheid. Its research agenda during the liberation struggle was strongly influenced by the need to rigorously explore those aspects of South African society and its cultural and material environment which were ignored or scanted by apartheid. This research has had a direct impact on communities and has informed much legislative and administrative action in a democratic South Africa.

Most postgraduate and research programmes at UWC are thus strongly responsive to the emergent needs of the society, and are often interdisciplinary in nature. Postgraduate students register in departments, institutes or schools. However, research areas are interdisciplinary and often draw on resources across departments and faculties. In other words, if you enter a postgraduate programme at UWC, you will find yourself registered in one department, but able to use a much wider range of resources. In what follows, some of the most prominent research focuses are described to give you a sense of the vitality of the UWC research environment.

The list is far from exhaustive, however. You would be well advised to discuss your interests with one of the departments, institutes or schools.


Over the past five years there has been a great shift in focus towards this area. New laboratories have been equipped, and major partnerships with international donors have been entered into. The South African National Bioinformatics Institute has already gained a significant international reputation. Post-doctoral fellows from various major universities have joined the research team.

Students from the programme have been hugely successful in securing international scholarships for doctoral studies abroad. Work in this area has implications for the other life sciences, so researchers in biology, botany, zoology, and physiology are associated in various ways with the cell biology project.

Biodiversity and conservation biology

South Africa is recognised as having the richest biodiversity of any temperate climate, and as such the country is of global importance. Therefore, knowing what we have and how to look after it is of great scientific and economic significance.

The department is staffed by a dynamic team of highly qualified and competent scientists, with many national and international links. Current research interests include marine biology, landscape ecology, ecophysiology, biodiversity and systematics, ethno-botany and biological education.

The one-year postgraduate Honours programme introduces students to research methodology, and provides advanced theory courses in a number of sub-disciplines. Training in various forms of presentation and statistics is also given.

Further studies at MSc and PhD level are thesis-driven, and can be undertaken in any area of staff interest and expertise (follow the path to the departments at More details are provided on the International Ocean Institute Regional Operational Centre at UWC, and the Cape Flats Nature Reserve which is located on campus.

Community welfare

The community welfare focus is one example of the community-orientated thrust of much research at UWC undertaken in dynamic partnership with the communities involved. The Department of Social Work places a strong emphasis on community social work in empowering dislocated or impoverished communities. The postgraduate programme in Child and Family Studies offered by the Social Work Department explores ways of establishing the functional family as the basic building block of the community. The Community Law Centre’s projects on children’s rights and gender are known for their work on the treatment of young offenders and on community projects for the protection of women.

Community-based rehabilitation is the central focus of the health professions programmes in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, dietetics and nursing. As part of its commitment to lifelong learning, the School of Public Health offers postgraduate qualifications in the field of public health, aimed at health and welfare personnel currently in service.

Cultural studies

The discipline of cultural studies has opened up new ways of exploring the media, public ceremony, the created environment, community drama and other such fields, deploying the resources of historical and literary studies, semiotics and ideological analysis. Postgraduate work in this field has largely been done in the Departments of English and History, with specialist input from academics in other language departments and in Anthropology and Sociology.

The Landscape and Memory project, now completed, had unexpected implications for land claims in the Kruger Park area. Other work has explored participant accounts of apartheid mass removals, the implications of testimony provided before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, violence and memory, and visuality.

Computer science

The Department of Computer Science has a vibrant and rapidly expanding postgraduate research programme with the participation of students at Honours, Master’s and PhD levels.

The Department runs a Telkom/Cisco Centre of Excellence in IP and Internet Computing. The Bridging Application and Networks Group develops software that allows equalised access to the enormous resources and communications facilities available on the Internet, independent of access capability (text, voice, video, collaborative virtual environments). Sample applications include deaf telephony and hybrid text-voice web-boards for distance learning.

The Intelligent Systems Group undertakes research in the areas of intelligent information and service delivery on the Internet (e.g. intelligent search engines), the integration of signed and verbal communication (e.g. the South African Sign Language Project) and biometrics (e.g. signature authentication). The focus of the Mobile Communications Group is on grooming and developing expertise through training, research, and the development of emerging wireless networks, new data services and telecommunication software.

Data Analytics and Business Intelligence

UWC’s EMS faculty is launching a new postgraduate diploma in 2017 focused on Data Analytics and Business Intelligence. Click here to view full programme details and admission requirements.

Development studies

Development studies is an area of crucial importance to the southern African region. UWC’s main postgraduate programmes in this area are run by the Institute for Social Development (ISD) in the School of Government. The ISD attracts students from many countries to its Honours and Master’s programmes. Other work in this area is carried out by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), the African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, the Community Law Centre, the International Ocean Institute, and the Entrepreneurship Development Unit.

Dynamics Of Building A Better Society (DBBS) UWC, in partnership with the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad (VLIR), has embarked on a five- to ten-year multi-disciplinary research and postgraduate development programme on Dynamics of Building a Better Society.

Projects in the programme are based in (although not exclusively) five faculties: Arts, Community & Health Sciences, Education, Economic & Management Sciences, and Natural Sciences. They offer exciting opportunities for Master’s and Doctoral students to work in niche areas that will impact on nation building. The five projects, all concerned with the dynamics of building a better society, are:

  • Policy management, governance and poverty alleviation in the Western Cape
  • Youth wellness
  • Addressing the direct and indirect impact of HIV/AIDS on pre- and school-going children in South Africa
  • The sustainable utilisation of subterranean water resources for the improvement of quality of life (water resource management and ecohydrology)
  • Culture, language and identity education.

UWC has for many years been one of South Africa’s main centres for postgraduate work in education. It has substantial expertise in three areas: school education, adult and continuing education, and higher education.

The Faculty of Education also offers a Master’s degree in Higher Education Studies, in collaboration with Oslo University in Norway and Makerere University in Uganda. Over the past 40 years, generations of established teachers have passed through the faculty, improving their management and leadership skills, their capacity to give substance to democratic ideals in the education system, and their skill at defining, in a very complex situation, which factors lead to improvement in the classroom.

The postgraduate programme is one of the largest in the country. One specialist unit is the School of Science and Mathematics Education that develops capacity in an area of vital importance for the country’s economy.

The Centre for Adult and Continuing Education is responsible for postgraduate work in this field. It offers an innovative, international MPhil programme in adult education, in partnership with universities in Sweden, Canada and Australia.

The Faculty of Education also offers a Master’s degree in Higher Education Studies.


BEd Programme: Terence Plaatjies

Tel: 021 959 3071


ACE (Advanced Certificate in Education) and NPDE (National Professional Diploma in Education)

Programmes: Faheema Amoo

Tel: 021 959 3889


BEd (Hons) and PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education)

Programmes: Nonkonzo Martins

Tel: 021 959 2430


MEd and PhD Studies: Valerie Koopman

Tel: 021 959 2651


Senior Faculty Officer: Suheimah Towfie

Tel: 021 959 2275


Environmental studies

UWC is well-equipped for environmental studies, with the Cape Flats Nature Reserve and the Environmental Education Resources Unit on campus, and developed postgraduate research areas on environmental issues in the departments of Geography and Environmental Studies, Earth Sciences and Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BCB). The socio-economic aspects of environmental issues receive attention in the projects of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies and the African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (Accede) in the School of Government.

The Department of Earth Sciences has instituted a programme in Environmental and Water Science. The MSc programme is aimed at training professional graduates for positions in environmental management. The department places a strong emphasis on integrated water resource management.

The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and the Department of BCB also strongly emphasise environmental topics.

Water studies

The Institute for Water Studies (IWS) at the University of the Western Cape was formed in 2009 with the goal of promoting research, postgraduate training and outreach on water related issues through the collaborative efforts of UWC staff.

The institute aims to increase the understanding of surface water, groundwater, and ecosystems linkages, and how water users are affected by and affect these linkages.

Exploration/applied geochemistry

Geochemistry is an interdisciplinary subject which is increasingly being integrated into the undergraduate programmes of applied geology, environmental science and water studies. The principles and applications of the above disciplines in the workplace lean heavily on understanding geochemical processes and geochemical research techniques.

The postgraduate programme in applied geology (Exploration Geochemistry) continues this theme by addressing the application of theoretical geological/geochemical principles in mineral exploration, with the specific aim of developing techniques capable of finding new deposits of minerals. Exploration geochemistry is a vital exploration tool, which is widely employed by all mining companies in various exploration projects worldwide.

Africa currently faces a shortage of skilled indigenous geologists. The postgraduate programme in exploration geochemistry combines the expertise of the chemist and geologist to explore the scientific basis for exploring and managing earth resources, as well as look into the environmental impact.

Ongoing research work by postgraduate students is supported by and closely linked to the needs of mining companies, which are the major employers of geologists in South Africa. Our research efforts are driven using state-of-the-art research infrastructure and laboratory facilities in the Department of Earth Sciences. UWC is the only institution in South Africa that offers this programme.

Governance and administration postgraduate work is largely offered through the School of Government, which coordinates the contributions of a number of units and centres, including the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), the African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (ACCEDE) and the Institute for Social Development (ISD).

The School offers Honours, Master’s and PhD programmes in the fields of governance, public administration and development studies.

Through its outreach unit, Fair Share, it also offers a Higher Certificate in Economic Development.

PLAAS offers postgraduate diplomas, and Master’s and PhD programmes in the fields of land and agrarian studies, sustainable livelihoods and natural resources management.

The Community Law Centre has done substantial work in local government.

Health issues

UWC has done pioneering work in an effort to transform the country’s health focus from a largely curative, hospital service, to a high-quality, equitable, and comprehensive community-based system. Much of this work has been in the School of Public Health.

The Psychology Department has contributed to reshaping the discipline in South Africa, while the Dentistry Faculty and the schools of Pharmacy and Public Health have been named World Health Organisation Collaborating Centres. Health care postgraduate programmes are offered in dentistry, dietetics, herbal science, industrial psychology, natural medicine, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physiotherapy, psychology, public health, nursing, and sports, recreation and exercise sciences.

The School of Public Health is a key national and African player in providing flexible postgraduate options which bring together a range of health professionals around a public health focus. It offers postgraduate qualifications in the field of public health, aimed at health and welfare personnel currently in service. The programme aims to contribute towards transforming the health and welfare sectors in South Africa and other developing countries. These qualifications are offered in such a way as to enable students to work while studying.

The complementary health science programme is designed to provide graduates with comprehensive interdisciplinary knowledge about the educational, scientific, health, industrial and economic value of medicinal plants. The programme focuses on indigenous phytodiversity, phytomedicines, phytochemicals and phytonutrients. Specific emphasis is placed on medicinal plants that could improve reproductive health and combat infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

History and heritage studies

Reinterpreting South African history is an essential feature of discovering a common nationhood. Through its History Department, the Institute for Historical Research Archive, and the UWC/Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive, UWC is making a distinctive contribution in this area.

Significant work is being undertaken and published on contemporary history, oral history, colonial history, the history of slavery in South Africa, the Khoisan in the Cape, and the history of the liberation struggle.

Postgraduate students are engaged in all of these projects, and in the innovative programme in Museum and Heritage Studies which is offered jointly with the Robben Island Museum and the University of Cape Town.

Studies of education under apartheid, of the history of publishing, and of South African literature, are being undertaken in the Faculty of Education and the departments of Afrikaans, English and Xhosa respectively.

Integrated water resource management

UWC has initiated the development of a programme in Integrated Water Resource Management. It works with a range of role-players to promote the access, conservation, protection, equitable utilisation and management of our scarce water resources. In South Africa, the increasing demands on water, its equitable distribution, and degradation in water quality, have become major management issues.

The new Water Act recognises that integrated and participatory management is required in order to attain the proper protection and development of water resources. The risk of water becoming a source of regional conflict highlights the need to promote cooperation in pursuing the common goals of conservation, sustainable utilisation, and economic growth and development as it relates to water usage.

Managing scarce water resources in the new millennium will require particular kinds of skills, competencies, problem solving abilities and understanding drawn from a range of traditional disciplines. The best and most cost-effective way to equip a new generation of water resource managers is to draw a range of disciplines together at postgraduate level in the form of a professional degree. Some urgency is attached to this idea with the recognition that South Africa’s law now envisages local control of water resources, which will require both specialist and generalist knowledge.

Labour issues

The LLM in Labour Law is based at UWC and offered in association with the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

The BCom (Hons) in Management and Labour Studies is jointly offered by Management and Law.

A respected MCom programme in Human Resources Management is offered by the Department of Industrial Psychology. It has a very successful internship element involving major corporates. Both Master’s programmes are in tune with changing business and labour environments.

The African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (ACCEDE) undertakes research on several labour-related areas.


At postgraduate level, substantial language options and research possibilities are concentrated in the language departments and sections (Afrikaans, Arabic, English, French, German, and Xhosa), and Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education.

Major focuses are language in education, language learning and acquisition, language policy and planning, literacy studies, multilingualism, Kaaps, psycho-linguistics and sociolinguistics. Doctoral work in language attitudes has been undertaken in the departments of Anthropology and Sociology, English and Psychology. Academic staff concerned with language in all the departments mentioned above have published extensively in South Africa and internationally.

The Illwimi Centre offers access to multilingualism projects in a variety of educational settings in the Western Cape. There are also in-house research opportunities in the English for Educational Development programme, the Foundation programme and the Writing Centre.


Postgraduate research in law may cover a wide range of fields, represented by the considerable expertise of the academic staff. However, the coursework and mini-thesis Master’s degree offers five focuses:

Labour law (see labour issues), constitutional litigation, environmental law, international and human rights law, and international trade, business and investment law.

All five are areas of law which have to become increasingly prominent in a democratic South Africa. A general Master’s degree in Law is also available. The Community Law Centre has research concentrations in economic and social rights, gender rights, the rights of the child, local government and intergovernmental relations, and prison reform.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is a key philosophy and approach to education and training provision, both nationally and internationally. It is an area of research in its own right, which has included both institutional research to understand and monitor lifelong learning at the university, and research which has led to Master’s and Doctoral degrees, where lifelong learning is explored philosophically and empirically.

The Centre for Adult and Continuing Education and the Division of Lifelong Learning provide important research platforms.


UWC offers extraordinary opportunities for excellent postgraduate work in literature. Its academic staff and postgraduate students have done pioneering work in Afrikaans literature, important studies on the Xhosa oral tradition, and much-praised research on a variety of topics in English. These include The Book in Africa, South African Literature, Women’s Writing in Africa, Literature and Art during the Liberation Struggle, Post-Colonial Literature, Modern Poetry, Renaissance Drama, Literature and the Environment, and American Literature.

Several staff members are published poets, and a creative writing module at Honours level has fostered creative talent and an enhanced understanding of literature. New options are being developed in Arabic, French and German.

In the postgraduate structure in Arts, students at Honours and Master’s levels are able to assemble meaningful combinations of modules from several departments. A conference of graduate students in literature from across the country is held periodically under the auspices of the departments of English at UWC, Stellenbosch and UCT. This normally leads to a publication. Recent awards to staff members include the SA Akademie’s award for literary translation, the Pringle Prize for criticism, and the Gold Medal of the English Academy of Southern Africa.


Postgraduate options in management are among the best-subscribed programmes at UWC, making the School of Business and Finance one of the largest in the university.

The Advanced Diploma in Management, followed by the BCom (Hons) in Business Administration, offers a rigorous academic programme to candidates who do not have a first degree in the field. This affords an excellent route into a career in business.

The MCom in Management allows considerable flexibility of choice for students, enabling them to structure a programme to suit their needs and interests. Dynamic relationships with the corporate sector create opportunities for first-hand experience and important networking.

The Entrepreneurship Development Unit (EDU) fosters entrepreneurship. Its work provides access to research opportunities in the small- and medium-enterprise sectors. Other work in management is offered in the School of Government.

The School of Business and Finance has a strong professional publication record in accredited journals, and has produced a series of student workbooks and teaching guides on entrepreneurship for a major educational publisher. The Management Graduate Network enables students to network with alumni and representatives of the business community.

Materials science

The Departments of Physics and Chemistry have well-established research and postgraduate programmes in materials science. These include the study and applications of thin film inorganic materials, porous media (membranes) and polymeric materials. Thin film materials, for example, have been applied in the production of solar panels.

Some of the research in this area has been undertaken in association with the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. The research on polymeric materials is focused on the improved production of commercial plastics such as polyethylene, polystyrene and polymethylmethacrylates. This is being done in collaboration with South African polymer manufacturers. The research in membrane materials is geared towards solving environmental issues in industry. This includes the treatment of effluent from industrial plants using membrane technology.

Mathematical and statistical sciences

The graduate programmes in mathematics and statistics offer exciting opportunities for pure and applied work. The Mathematics Department is well known for its programmes in group theory, topology, coding theory, algebra in general, and statistics.

The department is the only one in South Africa to have hosted the four-yearly Congress of the African Mathematical Union, PACOM-2000. The Statistics Department has developed postgraduate specialisations in general statistics and population studies.

A joint Master’s programme in computational finance is offered in conjunction with the departments of Mathematics and Management.

In 2004, the Statistics Department initiated Brown Bag (BB) lunch seminars where postgraduate students can exchange personal research ideas and share research experiences with their fellow students and staff.

The Statistics Department offers statistical consultation services to the broader university community on a part-time basis. During 2004, a consultation service funded via the PET project (Postgraduate Enrolment and Throughput Project) was housed in the Statistics Department to assist Master’s and Doctoral students with research related tasks.

A senior student conducted a survey for the Lifelong Learning Unit at UWC. For this project, questionnaires were designed, and data was collected, analysed and reported.

The department was in the fortunate position of being part of an extensive Limited Payout Machine (LPM) Survey in the Cape Metropole with the Economics Department. The Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board (WCGRB), the provincial regulators of the gambling industry, commissioned this research project.

Medical biosciences

The Department of Medical Biosciences is a vibrant department, comprising the disciplines of anatomy, medical microbiology and physiology, and offers exciting opportunities for research to dynamic and motivated postgraduate students.

The main thrust of the postgraduate programme involves understanding the relationship between lifestyle and disease, through cutting-edge research. Specific expertise resides within the broad research fields of anatomy, cardiovascular physiology, cancer research, herbal sciences, immunology, medical microbiology, molecular and cell biology, reproduction, toxicology and virology, collaborating in an interdisciplinary fashion.

  • The neonatal lung project focuses on the effects of nicotine in lung development, and potential strategies to counteract the adverse effects of smoking.
  • The reproductive biology project focuses on the effects of traditional African herbal remedies on male reproductive functions, the development of new male contraceptive strategies of plant origin, plant extracts that may have both antiviral (particularly anti-HIV) and antibacterial properties, as well as on the understanding of the adverse effects of male and female genital tract infections on the fertilisation process and the health of the infant.
  • Three major projects on apoptosis (gene controlled cell death) focus on various cancer and cardiac cells. Another project focuses on the modes to anticancer therapies. Moreover, these projects also investigate the pharmacological effect of various phytochemicals on different cardiovascular diseases, e.g. hypertension.
  • The environmental water pollution project focuses on the development of immuno-assays for biomarkers of physiological system modulation (endocrine, reproductive, immune) in order to improve the quality of drinking water.
  • Newly emerging projects explore the effects of endogenous microbial infections on female and infant morbidity, as well as the mechanisms of infection of corona viruses that cause upper respiratory tract diseases.

The principal investigators in the department are NRF-rated scientists who publish in internationally recognised journals.

There is strong collaboration with researchers and medical scientists worldwide. These medical scientists will supervise and guide postgraduate students in becoming the leading medical scientists of the future.

Herbal science

The South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute is the only one of its kind in the country, offering exciting Honours, Master’s and PhD degree programmes.


Cutting-edge nanotechnology-related research performed by UWC in their postgraduate programme at the South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry (SAIAMC), located at the Department of Chemistry. This research is focused on the application of nanomaterials in fuel cells for energy generation, electrolysers for hydrogen fuel production, and catalytic applications for chemicals synthesis, the decomposition of organic pollutants, and air pollution control.

Advances in the fabrication and processing of nano-sized materials have the potential to revolutionise existing technology by a quantum leap. The material properties of manufactured substances change dramatically when they are constructed with particles that are less than 100nm in size, and open the way for revolutionary technologies all based upon nanotechnology.

In nanotechnology-based research there is major potential for the generation of new knowledge and successful commercial products, as well as royalties which will impact South Africa’s strategic advantage and generate novel applications in industry.


The study of politics at UWC is known for generating energetic critique and the forging of new discourses to come to terms with the realities of South Africa.

The African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy and other constituents of the same School, the Institute for Social Development, and the Department of History, offer modules which may be included in political studies, higher degrees and vice versa.

Current research activities in political studies focus on politics and identity in post-apartheid South Africa, transition politics, comparative politics with an emphasis on social movements and social classes, international political economy, and local government.

The department is known for its expertise in research surveys. Some of its academic staff are well-known political commentators in the press and on radio and television.

Postgraduate Enrolment and Throughput Project (PET) postgraduate studies are intellectually stimulating and academically demanding, and are often also coupled with anxiety, frustration and loneliness. The PET aims to assist postgraduate students with the necessary support to overcome some of the major obstacles to thesis completion. This assistance includes workshops (e.g. developing a research identity, how to write a research proposal, research software training sessions, user education and information literacy workshops in collaboration with the library), computer literacy training, research writing and statistical coaching. The PET creates a space where postgraduate students can support each other in their academic concerns.

Contact the PET on: Tel: 021 959 3920/2451, or,


Religion and theology

There is a long and proud tradition of theological, religious and moral education at UWC. Programmes in religion and theology at UWC have an ecumenical orientation and are thoroughly contextual.

The following areas of concentration for cooperative research projects by academic staff members, together with postgraduate students, have been identified:

a) Moral education: The formation of a human rights culture;

b) Christianity and theological hermeneutics;

c) In each of these areas a substantial corpus of publications, theses, conferences and community service projects has emerged.

Such initiatives are being sustained through ongoing research projects.

Women’s and gender studies

The programme aims to promote scholarship on gender issues in South Africa, and to contribute to meeting the challenge of gender equality at the university and in society at large. The multi-disciplinary programme can be tailored to develop the specific interests of each student.

With our courses in theory and methodology providing a strong foundation, students are able to select a specialisation from a wide variety of fields including health, management, cultural studies and social policy.

Our thriving postgraduate programme has attracted many South African students, and an increasing number of applicants from other parts of Africa, as well as America and Europe.

A growing range of career opportunities for our graduates in a wide range of environments includes work in government departments, NGOs, educational institutions, corporations and private consultancies.

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