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University research institutes

The university research institutes have either gone through a competitive selection process for prioritisation or have been put in place for strategic purposes. Selected to drive research in a strategic manner, these institutes are grounded in existing areas of internationally recognised excellence while being aligned to institutional, regional and national priorities.

The first three are already well established:


African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI)

South Africa, with the rest of the African continent, has an imperative to improve human wellbeing, but within the constraints of the need for low-carbon development and mounting impacts of climate variability and change. The ACDI has been formed to engage with these challenges through interdisciplinary, innovative research and teaching that draws on intellectual capital across a wide range of disciplines at UCT. Its vision is an interdisciplinary research hub that brings together academics with non-governmental organisations, business and government in a knowledge factory that co-produces and tests new insights, evidence and innovations that will help to solve Africa's climate and development challenges.

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Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine

Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM)

The Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) is a trans-faculty, multi-disciplinary postgraduate research enterprise that operates in the fields of infectious disease and molecular medicine research. Established in 2004, the IDM has become the largest research entity at UCT and a national leader in research and human capital development in the field of health sciences. The IDM is distinguished by the ability to drive world-class research at the laboratory-clinic-community interface by engaging a wide range of scientific and clinical disciplines.

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Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII)

The Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII) tackles the question of why, in a country of rich resources, poverty and inequality are persisting and even, in the case of inequality, deepening. PII comprises high-profile members from diverse disciplines and aims to identify all major role players inside and outside the university, including academics, research groups, government and NGOs who are working in poverty alleviation, whether in policy or intervention. In addition, the PII plays a leading role in the Carnegie national inquiry into strategies to overcome poverty and inequality. The PII initiatives work on cross-cutting themes that have been identified as key issues in tackling the twin challenges of poverty and inequality through focused research, broad engagement and collaboration within and beyond the university environment.

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A further five were established more recently and are thriving:

Future Water Research Institute

Future Water

The complexity and uncertainties that go with water management in South Africa (e.g. water scarcity, water quality and climate change impacts) provide a major national challenge and can no longer be explained through the lens of single disciplines. Future Water's ultimate objective is to contribute towards increasing water sensitivity to underpin improved quality of life and sustainable development in South Africa. The institute integrates technical and socioeconomic aspects through the adoption of inter- and trans-disciplinary (IDTD) approaches and scholarship, as well as the perspectives of multiple stakeholders and users. The research programme includes a clear focus on the interactions between environmental, technical, economic and social aspects through the adoption of four thematic areas:

  • 'new taps' (new water resources)
  • 'blue-green infrastructure' (water sensitive management)
  • 'adapting to change' (building resilience/governance) and
  • 'maximising value' (maximum value from minimum resource)

Lead researcher: Professor Sue Harrison

Institute for Conservation, Conflict and Co-operation

Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa

The Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa is dedicated to understanding and mitigating local, national and global conservation conflicts. Understanding the drivers of such conflicts, including the conflict among people over how to balance wildlife, needs an interdisciplinary approach. While biology and sociology represent core research domains for wildlife and society respectively, conservation also requires a deeper engagement with the specific historical and socioeconomic context and the philosophical, legal and political frameworks within which conflicts arise. There is also the widening acceptance that slowing the current rate of biodiversity loss demands a paradigm shift in the way humans perceive their role in, and interdependence on, natural systems. The Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa will challenge the divide between the arts and hard sciences as it strives to understand and ultimately guide the realignment between humans and the natural systems we depend on.

Lead researcher: Professor Justin O'Riain


Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa

Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa

The Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa conducts comparative empirical studies of contemporary African democracy. Previous research has demonstrated that democracy is sustained through effective and predictable political institutions, and an active and critical citizenry, with both being underpinned by public policies that enable inclusive growth and rising welfare. The institute investigates each of these three areas with democracy being the guiding theme that binds them together.

Lead researcher: Professor Jeremy Seekings


Institute for Safety Governance in the Global South​

Institute for Safety Governance and Criminology

The intersection between global illicit flows, violence and crime at the local level remain under-studied, particularly in the Global South where the consequences for development and individual safety are greatest.The Institute, a partnership between the Centre of Criminology, the Safety and Violence Initiative, and the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice, in collaboration with the Geneva-based Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, will develop a research and teaching programme on global illicit markets and flows, local violence and crime risk and protective factors and safety governance. It will build a network of Latin American, Asian and African scholars focused on new global and local (in)securities, in particular, environmental security and illicit markets and violence. It will also pursue a more nuanced and interdisciplinary approach to the study of Criminology based on the dynamics and realities in the Global South.

Lead researcher: Associate Professor Julie Berg

Neurosciences Institute

Neurosciences Institute

Over the past decade, neuroscience has become a priority area for many universities, but the vast majority of brain and behavioural research has focused on WEIRD populations – westernised, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. There is a major research gap when it comes to understanding the impact of many disorders of the brain in Africa; there is also a special need to understand these conditions in context, as some diseases – such as traumatic brain injury and the neurological and neuropsychiatric consequences of HIV and TB – are far more prevalent here than elsewhere.
With a strong foundation in the clinical specialities, the Neurosciences Institute will draw together expertise in the basic sciences, public health and a wide array of other disciplines to advance our understanding of the brain. The institute will advance patient care while fostering research, education and advocacy in the fast-moving and exciting world of neuroscience. We are grateful to Ursel and David Barnes for making the initial donation that will see the first neurosciences institute in sub-Saharan Africa become a reality.

Lead researcher: Professor Graham Fieggen