The University of the Western Cape is a public university located in the Bellville suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The University of the Western Cape has a history of creative struggle against oppression, discrimination and disadvantage. Among academic institutions it has been in the vanguard of South Africa's historic change, playing a distinctive academic role in helping to build an equitable and dynamic nation. UWC's key concerns with access, equity and quality in higher education arise from extensive practical engagement in helping the historically marginalised participate fully in the life of the nation. The university was established in 1960 by the South African government as a university for Coloured people only. Other universities near Cape Town are the University of Cape Town, (UCT, originally for English speakingwhites) and the Stellenbosch University (originally for Afrikaans speaking whites). The establishing of UWC was a direct effect of the Extension of University Education Act, 1959. This law accomplished the segregation of higher education in South Africa. Coloured students were only allowed at a few non-white universities. In this period, other 'ethnical' universities, such as the University of Zululand and the University of the North, were founded as well. Since well before the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, it has been an integrated and multiracial institution.
UWC started as a 'bush college', a university college without autonomy under auspices of the University of South Africa. The university offered a limited training for lower to middle level positions in schools and civil service. In the first years of its existence, a great deal of the teaching staff was white. Many of the lecturers came from the University of Stellenbosch. The language in most lectures was Afrikaans. The first rector was N.J. Sieberhagen (from 1960 till 1973). The university started as a small institution: in the first year, 166 students were enrolled and the teaching staff numbered 17. In 1970, the institution gained university status and was able to award its own degrees and diplomas.
During the first 15 years, the board and staff were primarily whites, supporting the National Party and apartheid. One of the few exceptions was Adam Small, head of the Philosophy Department. Small was dismissed in 1973 as a consequence of his involvement in the Black Consciousness Movement. Apart from lecturers like Small, there were many students who were active in the struggle against apartheid, and who were loyal to the Black Consciousness Movement. Protests from students against the conservative university board and lack of participation in the university led to the appointment of the first coloured rector, Richard E. van der Ross in 1975. The years thereafter gave way to a more liberal atmosphere, in which the university gradually distanced itself from apartheid. In 1982, the university rejected the apartheid ideology formally in its mission statement; during the next year, the university gained the same autonomy as white universities through the University of the Western Cape Act.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, numerous UWC students were involved in the creation of Bush Radio, an anti-apartheid media project which distributed political and cultural radio programming via cassette tape due to the lack of a license to broadcast on a conventional radio platform. By 1993, the station went to air as a pirate radio station, and eventually became South Africa's first licensed community radio station.
Rector Jakes Gerwel made UWC an "intellectual home of the left", with attention to social and political issues. The university attracted increasing numbers of students from disadvantaged communities. Apart from coloured people, more and more black students enrolled. Gerwel was succeeded in 1995 by Cecil Abrahams, who was succeeded by Brian O'Connell in 2001. UWC retained the status of an autonomous university during the education restructuring of 2002.
During the past decade, UWC has developed an international reputation for research and development of free/open source software solutions and open educational resources. UWC is the only African institution that is a member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, and was voted onto the OCWC board in 2007.