Prof Jose Frantz

Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research & Innovation | University of The Western Cape

AfricaLive talks with Prof. Jose Frantz, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation at The University of The Western Cape

“I definitely think we can have significant impacts on the country’s future. In the past, research was very discipline-specific, but now we have started talking about interdisciplinarity and cross-cutting opportunities to solve problems together. We look at societal problems and see from which lens we can bring solutions.”

Key Points

  • UWC has strong research groups focusing on SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), with projects investigating anti-cancer properties of indigenous plants like rooibos and honeybush, and developing medicines to help HIV-affected children swallow antiretroviral drugs more easily.
  • The South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) at UWC is partnering with an African bioinformatics collaboration to do genomic sequencing and identify disease-causing pathogens across Africa, playing a key role in this continent-wide effort.
  • UWC’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences has partnered with companies like Samsung to train youth as software developers, with 95% of interns gaining employment, contributing to job creation and economic growth.
  • UWC values partnerships and has strategic collaborations with local and international institutions like the University of Missouri (USA) and European universities which have helped drive their impactful research agenda.
  • UWC is part of a consortium of 10 South African universities that have signed an agreement to collaborate on an Institute for the Preparedness and Prevention of Pandemics, exemplifying the importance of interdisciplinary partnerships to solve societal challenges.

AfricaLive: Prof. Frantz, each institution in South Africa has historically had a different role to play and is also evolving in a different way. Could you give an introduction to the University of the Western Cape’s identity and the key areas where you believe the institution can have an impact on South African society, both as an academic community and with your surrounding communities? 

Prof. Jose Frantz: The University of the Western Cape finds its history in being a historically disadvantaged institution. One of eight such universities in South Africa. In recent years, the University of the Western Cape has focused on aligning its research, teaching, and community engagement efforts with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As an engaged university deeply rooted in its local community, the institution aims to leverage all of its academic programs, research activities, and societal outreach to make a meaningful impact and difference in the wider community.


AfricaLive: UWC has evolved from having a smaller community focus to now being repeatedly recognized as one of Africa’s leading research universities. How do you strike a balance between doing research that is locally relevant and impactful while also ensuring it is globally relevant with an international perspective?

Prof. Jose Frantz: The University of the Western Cape has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, evolving from a more locally-focused institution to being recognized as one of Africa’s premier research universities with international impact. In navigating this process, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on striking the right balance between local relevance and global reach in our scholarship. We’ve identified the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a crucial guiding framework for our research efforts. Importantly, the SDGs align very closely with both South Africa’s National Development Plan and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. This strategic alignment ensures that our work is not only globally significant, but deeply rooted in the specific development priorities and challenges facing our local and regional contexts. For example, many of the SDGs – such as those focused on poverty reduction, quality education, and gender equality – are areas of critical importance both globally and here in South Africa. By aligning our research programs with these intersecting agendas, we can generate insights and solutions that are directly relevant to our communities, while also advancing knowledge that has broader international applicability”. 


AfricaLive: What does innovation mean to you? 

Prof. Jose Frantz: “For us at the University of the Western Cape, innovation encompasses much more than just research and commercialization. Innovation is about driving meaningful societal impact – what we call ‘social innovation’ is of critical importance to us. It’s not just about generating new knowledge in the ivory tower, but ensuring that knowledge is leveraged to make a real difference in the world. Innovation also includes innovating in our teaching and learning practices – exploring new and better ways to educate and empower our students.Ultimately, innovation for us is a holistic endeavor that spans our entire academic mission. It’s about utilizing our research to create tangible impact in industry and society. It’s about pioneering transformative approaches to teaching that better prepare our graduates. And it’s about being a catalyst for positive social change through our engaged, solutions-oriented scholarship.Innovation isn’t just an abstract concept for us – it’s a guiding principle that shapes everything we do, from our curriculum to our community partnerships. We’re committed to an expansive view of innovation that goes far beyond narrow metrics like patents or spinoffs. For us, true innovation is all about making a meaningful, measurable difference in people’s lives.”


AfricaLive: Could you highlight some of UWC’s flagship research projects that are underway? 

Prof. Jose Frantz: The University of the Western Cape is engaged in a diverse array of cutting-edge research projects aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A particular area of strength is SDG 3 which focuses on good health and well-being. In this domain, our researchers are exploring the anti-cancer properties of indigenous African plant species like rooibos and honeybush. This work has the potential to yield new plant-based therapies with global applications. Additionally, our pharmacy faculty are developing innovative approaches to help HIV-affected children more easily administer life-saving antiretroviral medications. Another flagship initiative is the work of our South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI), which is partnering with leading bioinformatics centers across Africa. Through this collaborative effort, SANBI is leveraging genomic sequencing to identify disease-causing pathogens, generating critical insights to address public health challenges facing the continent.

Beyond the health sciences, we also address SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth where we’ve also established an impactful program in our Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. Working with industry leaders like Samsung, we’re training young learners to become skilled software developers. These students gain hands-on experience creating mobile apps and coding in various languages. Notably, over 95% of participants in this internship program go on to secure employment, making a tangible contribution to job creation and economic growth.

Another area of focus is the Arts and Humanities where the Center for Humanities research pursues questions from the South that have a significant impact for locating intellectual traditions in Africa in a global discourse on the contemporary human condition. 

Across these diverse research domains, the common thread is our unwavering commitment to generating knowledge and innovations that have direct, meaningful impact – both within our local communities and on a global scale.”


AfricaLive: Indigenous knowledge is being incorporated into research at a growing number of South African universities. How do you believe indigenous knowledge can be applied at modern universities to have real societal impact?

Prof. Jose Frantz: It’s crucial for us to engage around indigenous knowledge. In our Faculty of Community and Health Sciences, we have a School of Natural Medicine that has been looking at using indigenous knowledge and natural herbs to design products for community usage. It’s still in early stages of development but it signals that we are taking indigenous knowledge seriously. We realize that in South Africa, where unemployment is high and medicines are costly, using our natural herbs and local resources can potentially make treatments more affordable for our population.


AfricaLive: What does partnership mean to you and what are the key building blocks of successful research partnerships that generate positive outcomes for all participants?

Prof. Jose Frantz: Partnerships have been key to UWC’s success and have led us to where we are now. Over the years we’ve made a concerted effort to look at strategic partnerships, as it is one of our key Institutional Operating Plan goals that we are driving. We have both local and international partners that have helped move the institution in a positive direction. 

For example, we have partnerships with the University of Missouri in the United States and universities in Europe. These partnerships have assisted us in driving our research agenda in an impactful way in terms of what we are able to do and how we do it. 

Even with the Pan-African bioinformatics collaboration I mentioned that SANBI is involved in, it comes from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Being part of this African consortium to look at disease management in Africa puts UWC on the map and gives our researchers an opportunity to contribute their knowledge into the bigger scheme of things.


AfricaLive: South Africa faces deep challenges like poverty and inequality, but they sit beside world-leading scientific work being done at the universities. How confident are you that university researchers in South Africa can have a significant positive impact on the country’s future?

Prof. Jose Frantz: I definitely think we can have significant impacts on the country’s future. In the past, research was very discipline-specific, but now we have started talking about interdisciplinarity and cross-cutting opportunities to solve problems together. We look at societal problems and see from which lens we can bring solutions. 

For example, 10 universities in the country, including UWC, have just signed an agreement to collaborate on an Institute for the Preparedness and Prevention of Pandemics. We’re coming together to make sure the country is ready for the future. If we harness the talent and potential that exists within the South African university space and bring researchers together with common goals, we can find solutions to the various societal problems we face.

It’s important that solutions are context-specific though, as challenges look different for each institution depending on their location and key stakeholders. At UWC, most of our stakeholders come from poor communities, so we need to keep that context in mind with the work we do. We’re trying to balance high-level research with on-the-ground community impact.

Internationalization, partnerships and collaboration are very key going forward. But there’s a need for equity in these partnerships. The SDGs, for example, were written by the Global North for the Global South, yet we in the South have our own solutions for the challenges we face. Let’s partner together to find context-specific solutions by engaging with one another through equitable international partnerships.



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.