Research & Innovation Week 2023

Catalytic Niche Areas


Catalytic Niche Areas

The Vice-Chancellor has identified the 10 niche areas that will hopefully not only activate and enhance the academic agenda but will also enhance our experiences as engaged scholars who refuse to be academic pies in the sky, scholars who will care to address the needs of our society. These include:

  • Marine studies,
  • Aviation and Aeronautical studies,
  • Automotive,
  • Energy,
  • Space study and Square Kilometer Array,
  • Fourth Industrial revolution and Digitalisation,
  • Natural Sciences (Biotechnological studies),
  • Health Studies/Medicine,
  • Feminist, Womanist, Bosadi Theorizations,
  • Student Support and Co-Curricular activities.

A glimpse at the Catalytic Niches:

  • Marine Studies:

According to the Marine Research Plan of the Department of Science and Technology (2014), coastal oceanography is still in its infancy. There exists a plethora of commercial activities and trade along the 2800 km coastline of South Africa. The Port of Durban is the biggest and busiest port in South Africa. The university needs to tap deep into the opportunities for supporting economic growth through teaching and learning, research and innovation as well as engaged scholarship, while at the same time creating awareness of how to protect our marine world from degradation.

  • Aviation and Aeronautical studies:

South Africa has about 18 airports, with OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka being our common international airports. These airports cater for people and goods, coming into South Africa or transiting to and from other countries. This information confirms that this is a niche area that could be one of our economic muscles. Participation in aviation and aeronautical studies would range from among others, aviation mechanics and engineering, electronics, operations and safety policy space in accordance with international standards and conventions, as well as traveller experience.  

  • Automotive

The South African Automotive Master Plan (SAAM) 2021 – 2035 envisages the automotive industry to grow from 600 000 to 1.4 million vehicles a year in production at its peak ( This is a confirmation that in this specific niche, there is a potential to be explored even in our commitment to producing quality students in this specific niche.

  • Energy:

The Energy mix spectrum in South Africa comprises generation, distribution and service (including sales), all requiring different and specific knowledge and skills. Developments concerning power shortages in the latter years are proof that there is an urgent need to review how we provide energy to the growing and transforming population.  South Africa is bestowed with natural light to generate solar energy, as well as wind energy which has since seen the establishment of wind energy farms in the Northern Cape. Developments such as these, are an opportunity for the university to participate in building an energy-secure country and a continent that is lit using sustainable energy.

  • Space study and Square Kilometer Area:

The work being done in this regard is of a pioneering nature, involving multi-disciplinary experts and scientists working collaboratively from across the globe. Building such sophisticated and far-reaching telescopes would be a product of extreme engineering, the building of huge capacity information and communications technology hardware and software, and related functions and capabilities. The fact that the magnitude and scope of this kind of project require skills from across the world, speaks to the Internationalisation agenda that the university is embarking upon.

  • Fourth Industrial revolution and Digitalisation

The impact of the 4th industrial revolution is upon us and has drastically changed production methods and trade methodologies. Disruptive technologies such as 3D printing, the use of cryptocurrencies, machine learning, the use of big data and algorithms to create data analytics, robotics, etc. are defining the new normal of conducting daily business and studies. Such developments speak to the need for building capacity in the legal, commercial, and technology fields at the university. Embracing the effects of 4IR cannot be left to ‘catch-up’ processes at the tail end but should be part and parcel of training and development by institutions of higher learning, such as ours.

  • Natural Sciences (Biotechnological studies):

The current need for the development of vaccines illustrates the point for the need to improve and rapidly develop research capacity and technology. With these studies, our lives and the health of our planet, including sustainable food production methods that are friendlier to the environment, could improve significantly.

  • Health Studies/Medicine:

COVID-19 has in many ways tested our capacity to respond to health challenges including any other pandemic that may erupt. Research in molecular biology, healthcare, the development of health equipment, and the development of specialised skills in pulmonary medicine is urgently needed. In fact, the country has to develop the capacity to continue training medical specialists in different areas that may be deemed critical and urgent at the emergence of any other future pandemics and life-threatening diseases (medical emergencies).

  • Feminist, Womanist, Bosadi Theorizations:

It is often stated that the most disrespected person in society is the black woman. The most unprotected person is a black woman. This is why mainstream/Western feminism is not enough, there is a need for intersectionality - feminism that protects all, regardless of one's race, gender identity, or capabilities. Bosadism, is a theory for the context of Black South African women encompassing racial oppression, sexist African culture, classism as well as general sexism. It is crucial for the university to focus on this field of research and studies.

  • Student Support and Co-Curricular activities:

Being an African university that caters for numerous student populations drawn from different walks of life, including and especially, those coming from poor backgrounds, proper support and tutelage to such students is important. Equipping students with life skills beyond academics is crucial. The ongoing globalisation and interconnection of the world order, dictate that the education and skills imparted to students are such that they allow them to be citizens of the world, who can compete favourably in the global village as they explore different ways of doing things and yet remain proudly African/ South African.

Last modified: 2023/08/07