University of South Africa

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University of South Africa
Former names
University of the Cape of Good Hope
Type Public open distance learning
Established 26 June 1873
Chancellor Judge Bernard Ngoepe
Principal & Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mandla Makhanya
Administrative staff
5,575 (2011)
Students 355 240 (2013)
Location Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

The University of South Africa is the largest university on the African continent and attracts a third of all higher education students in South Africa. The university has over 300,000 students, including African and international students in 130 countries worldwide, making it one of the world's mega universities.

Unisa is a dedicated open distance education institution. Open distance learning (ODL) entails a student-centred approach that gives students flexibility and choice over what, when, where, and how they learn, and provides them with extensive student support.

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.


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. In 1946, it was given a new role as a distance education university and today it offers certificate, diploma and degree courses up to doctoral level.

In January 2004, Unisa merged with Technikon Southern Africa (formerly known as Technikon SA) and incorporated the distance education component of Vista University. The combined institution retained the name University of South Africa, unlike other merged institutions, which underwent name changes. It is now organised by college and by school; see below.

The University[edit]

Unisa Muckleneuk campus at night


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. [1]

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

Students and staff[edit]

According to the Department of Institutional Statistics and Analysis (DISA) at the university, Unisa had 328,179 students enrolled in 2011 from South Africa, Africa, and other international states. The largest portion of these students are South African, being 91.5% (300,211) of the sum of the student enrollments. The majority of these students enrolled at the College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS), being 42.5% (139,358) of the sum of the student enrollments.

According to the same department, Unisa had 5,575 staff members in 2011. 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.

Academic community[edit]

As an Open Distance Learning (ODL) institution, and 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.

  • College of Accounting Sciences
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • College of Education
  • College of Economic and Management Sciences
  • College of Graduate Studies
  • College of Human Sciences
  • College of Law
  • College of Science, Engineering and Technology
  • Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL)

In addition to the eight colleges and SBL, Unisa has numerous bureaus, centres, institutes, museums and units[2] supporting academic development and research.


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.[3]

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.[4]

Internationally, Unisa is listed in the Commonwealth Universities Handbook of 1999 and also in the International Handbook of Universities of 1998.

On 12 January 2002, Unisa was granted full institutional accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). The accreditation lapsed in March 2007, and Unisa did not pursue renewal.

Entrance requirements[edit]

Students need a school-leaving qualification that would entitle them to enter a university or college in their own country.


Market research has shown that Unisa is rated as one of the top universities in South Africa (2001) - Unisa qualifications are sought after in the marketplace.[according to whom?]

  • Courses are offered at one-quarter to one-third the price of residential universities;
  • Courses are accessible as students who do not have a university entrance matric can register for Unisa's access programme;
  • Courses are flexible, because students can plan their studies to fit into their lifestyles;
  • The qualifications are credible, because of the international recognition afforded its qualifications.

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.


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.

Vice-Chancellors of the University of the Cape of Good Hope, from 1873 to 1918[edit]

Chancellors of the University of South Africa from 1918 to present[edit]

Vice-Chancellors of University of South Africa, 1918 to 1955[edit]

  • Prof. Willem Jacobus Viljoen, 1918 - 1922
  • Sir. John Ernest Adamson, 1922 - 1926
  • The Rev. John Daniel Kestell, 1926 - 1928
  • Hugh Bryan, 1928 - 1930
  • Dr. Nicolaas Marais Hoogenhout, 1930 - 1932
  • Dr. Samuel Henri Pellissier, 1932 - 1934
  • Prof. Marthinus Christoffel Botha, 1934 -1936
  • François Daniël Hugo, 1936 - 1938
  • Senator François Stephanus Malan, 1938 - 1940
  • Prof. Ferdinand Postma, 1940 - 1944
  • Adv. Alfred Adrian Roberts, 1944 - 1946
  • Dr. Herman Heinrich Gerhard Kreft, 1946 - 1948
  • Dr. Albertus Johannes Roux van Rhijn, 1948 - 1952
  • Prof. Stephanus Petrus Erasmus Boshoff, 1952 - 1955

Principals and Vice-Chancellors of the University of South Africa, from 1953 to present[edit]

  • Prof. Andries Jacobus Hendrik Johannes Van der Walt, Principal, 1953 - 1955
  • Prof. Andries Jacobus Hendrik Johannes Van der Walt, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1956
  • Prof. Samuel Pauw, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1956 - 1972
  • Prof. Theo van Wijk, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1972 - 1988
  • Prof. Jan Casper Gerhardus Janse van Vuuren, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1989 - 1993
  • Prof. Marinus Wiechers, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1994 - 1997
  • Prof. Antony Patrick Melck, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 1998 (acting) and 1999 - 2001
  • Prof. Nyameko Barney Pityana, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 2002 - 2010
  • Prof. Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, 2011–present

Notable alumni (students and faculty)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Unisa - Bureaus, Centres, Institutes, Museums and Units". Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  3. ^ "Top Africa". Ranking Web of World Universities. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "Accreditation". 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-07-02.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ "Executive Profile: Alan Jon Clark MA, D.LitteT. Phil.". Bloomberg. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Boucher, Maurice. 1973. Spes in Arduis: a history of the University of South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA. Pages 74 and 114.

External links[edit]

The University[edit]

International cooperation[edit]

Coordinates: 25°46′02″S 28°11′58″E / 25.76722°S 28.19944°E / -25.76722; 28.19944