University of South Africa

The University of South Africa (UNISA), 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 350,000 students, including international students from 130 countries worldwide, making it one of the world's mega universities and the only such university in Africa.

University of South Africa
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 [1]
ChancellorThabo Mbeki
Vice-ChancellorProf. Mandla Makhanya
Administrative staff
6,218 (2015)
Students420 000 (2019)[2]
Location, ,
25°46′02″S 28°11′58″E
ColoursMaroon, Navy and White

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. In 1946, it was given a new role as a distance education university and today it offers certificate, diploma and degree courses[4] 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. It is now organised by college and by school; see below.

The University


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.[5]

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

Students and staff

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.[6]

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.

Academic community

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.

  • 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[7] 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.[8]

Distance education at Unisa


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

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.[9]

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).[10][11]

Entrance requirements

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

Academic dress

  • 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.[12]


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

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

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

  • Sir Langham Dale, 1873 – 1877; 1879 – 1882; 1884 – 1889
  • The Hon. Sir Charles Abercrombie Smith, 1877 – 1879; 1905 – 1911
  • The Ven. Hopkins Badnall, 1882 – 1884
  • Justice Charles Thomas Smith, 1889 – 1893
  • The Rev. Canon George Ogilvie, 1893 – 1897
  • Sir Thomas Muir, 1897 – 1901
  • The Hon. Sir Ebenezer John Buchanan, 1901 – 1905
  • The Rev. Prof Thomas Walker, 1911 – 1913
  • Prof William Ritchie, 1913 – 1916
  • The Hon. Sir Malcolm William Searle, 1916 – 1918

Chancellors of the University of South Africa from 1918 to present

  • Field-Marshal H.R.H, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, 1918 – 1942
  • Chief Justice the Right Hon. Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet, 1943 – 1951
  • Judge President the Hon. Gerhardus Jacobus Maritz, 1951 – 1957
  • Dr. Francois Jean de Villiers, 1957 – 1977
  • Judge Victor Gustav Hiemstra, 1977 – 1987
  • Vacant 1988
  • Prof. Theo van Wijk, 1989 – 1990
  • Dr. Christoph Friedrich Garbers, September 1990 – 2000
  • Judge Bernard Ngoepe, 2001–2016
  • President Thabo Mbeki, 2016 – present

Vice-Chancellors of University of South Africa, 1918 to 1955

  • 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

  • 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)

See also


  2. Institutional Information and Analysis Portal
  4. "Unisa Short Courses". Mansa Digital. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  5. "Unisa opens r1bn science campus".
  6. "Facts & figures – Student enrolments". Unisa. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  7. "Unisa – Bureaus, Centres, Institutes, Museums and Units". Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  8. "Top Africa". Ranking Web of World Universities. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  9. "Accreditation". 2 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  10. "Unisa". Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  11. "ACU Members – Africa". Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  12. "Academic dress". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  13. Boucher, Maurice. 1973. Spes in Arduis: a history of the University of South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA. Pages 74 and 114.

The University

International cooperation

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