University of South Africa

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University of South Africa
The University of South Africa.jpg
The university campus
Former names
University of the Cape of Good Hope
MottoPro Gentibus Sapientia (Latin)
Motto in English
In the service of humanity
Distance education
Mega University
Established1873; 150 years ago (1873)[1]
ChancellorThabo Mbeki
Vice-chancellorPuleng LenkaBula
Administrative staff
6,218 (as of 2015)
Students420,000 (as of 2019)[2]
Location, ,
25°46′02″S 28°11′58″E / 25.76722°S 28.19944°E / -25.76722; 28.19944Coordinates: 25°46′02″S 28°11′58″E / 25.76722°S 28.19944°E / -25.76722; 28.19944
ColoursMaroon, Navy and White
University of South Africa logo.svg

The University of South Africa (UNISA),[a] known colloquially as Unisa, is the largest university system in South Africa by enrollment. It attracts a third of all higher education students in South Africa. Through various colleges and affiliates, UNISA has over 400,000 students, including international students from 130 countries worldwide, making it one of the world's mega universities and the only such university in Africa.

As a comprehensive university, Unisa offers both vocational and academic programmes, many of which have received international accreditation, as well as an extensive geographical footprint, giving their students recognition and employability in many countries the world over. The university lists many notable South Africans among its alumni, including two Nobel prize winners: Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.[3]

Founded in 1873 as the University of the Cape of Good Hope, the University of South Africa (or Unisa as it is commonly known) spent most of its early history as an examining agency for Oxford and Cambridge universities and as an incubator from which most other universities in South Africa are descended. Legislation in 1916 established the autonomous University of South Africa (the same legislation established Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town as autonomous universities) as an "umbrella" or federal institution with its seat in Pretoria, playing an academic trusteeship role for several colleges that eventually became autonomous universities.[4] The colleges that were under UNISA's trusteeship were Grey University College (Bloemfontein), Huguenot University College (Wellington), Natal University College (Pietermaritzburg), Rhodes University College (Grahamstown), Transvaal University College (Pretoria), the South African School of Mines and Technology (Johannesburg), and Potchefstroom University College.[5] In 1959, with the passage of the Extension of University Education Act, UNISA's trusteeship also extended to the five "black universities", namely University of Zululand, University of the Western Cape, University of the North, University of Durban-Westville, and University of Fort Hare.[6] In 1946, UNISA was given a new role as a distance education university, and today it offers certificate, diploma and degree courses[7] up to doctoral level.

In January 2004, Unisa merged with Technikon Southern Africa (Technikon SA, a polytechnic) and incorporated the distance education component of Vista University (VUDEC). The combined institution retained the name University of South Africa. It is now organised by college and by school; see below.

The university[edit]


Unisa's Muckleneuk Campus is located in Pretoria and is a major landmark of the capital city. It was in 1972 that Unisa moved into its new home on Muckleneuk Ridge having vacated the old quarters in central Pretoria. The complex of buildings was designed by Bryan Sandrock Architects in the 1960s and expresses an international style characterised by monumental proportions and engineering feats like the cantilevered structures. The most striking feature is the long projection from the brow of the hill, supported by a giant steel girder resting on a massive column.

Also in Pretoria is the Sunnyside campus, the main area of student activity. The Florida campus in Johannesburg is Unisa's science campus. The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and some departments of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology is housed here. The science campus contains 12 buildings, a library, two auditoriums and a large study area. It also includes a horticultural centre and a multipurpose research and training facility designed to meet the education and research needs of students in a range of programmes including agriculture, ornamental horticulture and nature conservation.[8]

The university has seven regional centres in South Africa, servicing students in all nine provinces. These are:

Students and staff[edit]

According to data extracted from the final audited Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) submissions to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Unisa had 355,240 students enrolled in 2013 from South Africa, Africa, and other international states. The largest portion of these students are South African, being 91.4% (324,607) of the sum of the student enrollments. The College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS) is the largest of the eight colleges, with 26.7% (94,972) of the total student enrollments.[9]

According to the same HEMIS submission, Unisa had 5,575 staff members in 2013. The staff complement consisted of 3,261 females (55.7%) and 2,593 (44.3%) males. 2011 figures from the Department of Institutional Statistics and Analysis (DISA) at the university show that the majority of the staff employed are non-professional administrative staff, being 56.8% (3,164). The number of institutional/research professionals are 33.2% (1,846) of the sum of the staff employed.Therefore, it is imperative for editors to note unverified notes here,<now everyone is editing>

Academic community[edit]

As one of the world's mega universities, Unisa presents academic offerings associated with both technological and traditional universities. These include, but are not limited to, a combination of career-orientated courses usually associated with a university of technology, and formative academic programmes typically linked to a traditional university.

In addition to the eight colleges and SBL, Unisa has numerous bureaus, centres, institutes, museums and units[10] supporting academic development and research.

Despite the qualifications offered by the various departments, the College of Science, Engineering and Technology offers sub-standard qualifications, being on Dublin (Technician) & Sydney (Technologist) Accords.[11][12][13] Simply put a graduate from the university cannot register as a Professional Engineer. Recently the university has introduced the new Bachelor of Engineering Technology Honours being a Level 8 qualification and still not recognised on Professional Engineer level.[14]


University rankings
Global – Overall
ARWU World[15]801–900 (2019)

In 2015, the University of South Africa was ranked the 6th best university in South Africa by the Times Higher Education. This makes the university the 6th best university in Africa, out of 30.[16]

Distance education at Unisa[edit]


Unisa received a royal charter in 1877. It currently operates under the Statute of the University of South Africa issued in terms of the Higher Education Act (No. 101 of 1997), and is accredited by the South African Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education (CHE). Its qualifications (including those of the SBL) are registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

International accreditation of Unisa's qualifications[edit]

Unisa is inter alia listed in the following publications: International Handbook of Universities published by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and officially verified by the International Association of Universities.

In other cases the publication of an institution's name in specific authoritative publications forms the basis of accreditation. Students must however enquire from the specific foreign country/university whether Unisa's qualifications are accredited/recognised.[17]

Internationally, Unisa is listed in the Commonwealth Universities Handbook of 1999 and also in the International Handbook of Universities of 1998. It is actually listed as Member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU 2018).[18][19]

The qualifications offered by the College of Science, Engineering and Technology are also accredited internationally through the accreditation done by the Engineering Council of South Africa under the Dublin[13] and Sydney[12] Accords.

Entrance requirements[edit]

Students need a school-leaving qualification that would entitle them to enter a university or college in their own country. The majority of applications are now processed online.,[20] you will need to meet the requirements for the course you are looking to study.

The university has introduced new rules on entrance requirements since 2014, this outright rejects TVET College graduates. Previously these students was allowed to complete bridge subjects and even Higher Certificates before going towards the Diploma and National Diploma. Even completing the National Senior Certificate (Vocational) Level 4 will not be accepted without further education. Universities South Africa argue the subjects from the school curriculum are more "significant in-depth" than the N3 subjects.[21] The university is therefore likely the only university with this rule. Universities South Africa refers these students to consider other universities and colleges.[21]

Academic dress[edit]

  • Bachelors, masters and honours degrees: black gown with the same pattern as a Master of Arts gown of the University of Oxford or Cambridge, and a black cap with a black tassel.
  • Doctoral degrees: cardinal red gown with open sleeves lined in cardinal red, cardinal red cap with a tassel in the colour of the college concerned.[22]


Unisa has been promoting and promulgating culture in all its manifestations since its inception in 1873. Apart from the academic courses offered by Unisa's College of Humanities, practical language, art and music skills have been actively pursued through the setting of curricula and the implementation of special courses and examinations.

  • African Centre for Arts, Culture and Heritage studies
  • Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology
  • Department of Music
  • Unisa Space Art Gallery
  • Unisa Music Foundation

Unisa Foundation[edit]

The Unisa Foundation was established in 1966 and now has approximately 280 active donors, many of them individual alumni with the desire to give back to the communities, South African and international, with a sense of social responsibility. Equally vital is the role played by the Board of Trustees, whose members not only oversee the affairs of the Unisa Foundation but who also lend the weight of their professional and personal reputations in a drive to reach potential donors, without financial reward to themselves.

Based at Unisa's main campus in Muckleneuck, Pretoria, the foundation has Fundraising and Development Divisions in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. These divisions support the smooth running of projects being undertaken in their regions while raising additional funding for local community projects.

Unisa Press[edit]

Unisa Press is the largest university press in South Africa, with the biggest publication list.[citation needed]

University leaders, notable alumni, and faculty[edit]

See the main article, List of University of South Africa people.

Corruption controversy[edit]

On 17 October 2021, a leaked ministerial report claimed that rampant corruption at Unisa undermines the quality of education, and highlighted the risk that the institution is becoming a "qualifications factory".[23][24] The claim that Unisa was becoming a diploma mill due to mismanagement were being reviewed by Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology. On 19 October 2021, Unisa released a statement attempting to "correct" these claims.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "South African Universities – a historical perspective". Archived from the original on 23 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Institutional Information and Analysis Portal". Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  3. ^ "Illustrious alumni". 15 April 2021. Archived from the original on 15 April 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  4. ^ Welsh, David (1975). "Universities and Society in South Africa: An Historical Perspective (The Van Wyk de Vries Commission on Universities: Critical Comments)". Philosophical Papers. 4 (1): 22. doi:10.1080/05568647509506448.
  5. ^ Welsh, David (1975). "Universities and Society in South Africa: An Historical Perspective". Philosophical Papers. 4 (1): 22. doi:10.1080/05568647509506448.
  6. ^ Moulder, James (1975). "Academic Freedom and the Extension of University Education Act". Philosophical Papers. 4 (1): 65. doi:10.1080/05568647509506451.
  7. ^ "Unisa Short Courses". Mansa Digital. 17 November 2019. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Unisa opens r1bn science campus". Archived from the original on 26 January 2016. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Facts & figures – Student enrolments". Unisa. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Unisa – Bureaus, Centres, Institutes, Museums and Units". Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  11. ^ "Degrees Accredited as Meeting the Educational Requirement for Registration as a Candidate or Professional Engineer" (PDF). Engineering Council of South Africa. 31 May 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ a b "Degrees Accredited as Meeting the Educational Requirement for Registration as a Candidate or Professional Engineering Technologist" (PDF). Engineering Council of South Africa. 31 May 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ a b "Degrees Diplomas as Meeting the Educational Requirement for Registration as a Candidate or Professional Engineering Technician" (PDF). Engineering Council of South Africa. 31 May 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "Qualification Standard for Bachelor of Engineering Technology Honours: NQF Level 8" (PDF). Engineering Council of South Africa. 1 September 2020. Retrieved 3 February 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ [Academic Ranking of World Universities 2019 Archived 15 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine]
  16. ^ "Top Africa". Ranking Web of World Universities. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  17. ^ "Accreditation". 2 July 2012. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  18. ^ "Unisa". Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  19. ^ "ACU Members – Africa". Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Unisa Online Application (UL)". 20 April 2022. Retrieved 25 May 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ a b "Universities South Africa". Universities South Africa, formerly known as Higher Education South Africa (HESA). Retrieved 3 February 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "Academic dress". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  23. ^ Mntungwa-Makamu, Nonjabulo (18 October 2021). "Nzimande is still studying the leaked Unisa report". SABC. Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  24. ^ Govender, Prega (17 October 2021). "'Network of corrupt officials' as Unisa turns into 'qualifications factory'". TimesLIVE. Archived from the original on 19 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  25. ^ "Unisa sets the record straight on its qualifications and research capacity". Unisa. 19 October 2021. Archived from the original on 29 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  26. ^ McCain, Nicole (19 October 2021). "Report questioning quality of Unisa qualifications 'malicious', university says". News24. Archived from the original on 19 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.


  1. ^ Zulu: Inyuvesi yaseNingizimu Afrika, Xhosa: IYunivesithi yoMzantsi Afrika, Afrikaans: Universiteit van Suid-Afrika, Tswana: Yunibesithi ya Aforika Borwa, Swazi: INyuvesi yase Ningizimu Afrika, Venda: Yunivesithi ya Afurika Tshipembe

External links[edit]

The University[edit]

International cooperation[edit]