Demography at the University of Cape Town
The demography teaching programme at UCT was established in 2000 with
funding from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. In its early years, demography
teaching took place within the structure of the Master's programme in the School
of Economics, and was taught by a single demographer.
A full Master's programme in demography was launched in 2003 and the first
doctoral students enrolled in 2004. A variety of courses and programmes are now
offered to postgraduate students at the university, including two distinct
Master's degrees as well as doctoral studies, are now available
From its initial small beginnings, the teaching complement on the programme
has expanded to three demographers, all of whom are located within the Centre
for Actuarial Research.
Demographic teaching, training and research
The study of demography has long been
under-researched at Southern African universities. In South Africa this is
largely a consequence of apartheid policies that politicised the use of
demographic data, and afforded great secrecy and security to the data and to
analyses based on them. In other Southern African countries, resource shortages
and poor data quality have limited the useful purposes to which routinely
collected demographic data could be put.
data, models and analyses have, and will continue to, play a key role in the
reconstruction and development of Southern Africa. Knowledge of future
population trends is essential for infrastructural investment and planning. The
spread and epidemiology of the HIV/AIDS epidemic further emphasises the
importance of demographic research. In South Africa, this has been acknowledged,
both by government and its research agencies (demography is one of the scarce
skills supported by a current NRF funding initiative), as well as by overseas
agencies and funders.
regard, UCT has been fortunate to be the recipient of three consecutive tranches
of funding (the third running from mid-2004 for three years) from the Andrew W
Mellon Foundation to develop demographic training and research.
Why the need to teach
demography, and why at UCT?
A recent study on the need and
sustainability of training in demography and population studies in Southern and
Eastern Africa conducted by leading demographers for the Population Council makes specific reference to the need for a
centre of excellence in demography to be fostered and sustained in the region.
The demography programme at UCT aims to be one such centre, based on our
assessment of the state of Southern African demography.
the demographic data collected in Southern and Eastern Africa are seldom of a
standard sufficient to allow their use without substantial prior investigation,
analysis and correction. There is little prospect of this situation changing to
any significant degree in coming years. The necessary investigations, analyses
and corrections require trained and competent demographers.
the establishment of a centre of excellence with researchers developing the
technical mathematical and statistical skills required of students to perform
these investigations will be a resource for the entire region, as there is
currently no obvious centre of excellence in demography in Southern Africa where
students can be trained in demographic techniques.
it is the strongly held view of the proponents of the masters programme that
South Africas (as well as that of the region as a whole) current reliance on
training its demographers overseas is neither affordable nor sustainable in the
long term. Historically, Southern African demographers have been trained at the
premier demographic research institutions in the UK or the US. A
changing ideological focus after the 1994 Cairo Conference, together with the
implementation of high-quality data collection systems in developed countries
has reduced the need for the kind of demographic techniques and
analyses that are still so crucial in developing countries. Since the major
focus of these institutions is to train demographers with research interests
appropriate to the needs of the countries where the institutions are located,
almost all demoagraphic institutions in the developed world have moved away from the teaching
of formal demography. This, together with the huge cost of
overseas postgraduate education, is making overseas training of professional
African demographers an increasingly difficult task.
direct consequence of the above, there is a serious shortage of competent
professional demographers in South Africa and in Africa more broadly. In
addition, both the country and region as a whole are short of professional
demographers with sufficient critical ability to appraise the work of their
peers, especially those responsible for the production of official statistics
and census results.