University of South Africa

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University of South Africa
Former names
University of the Cape of Good Hope
Established 26 June 1873
Type Public open distance learning
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

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 set to become Unisa's science hub. The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and some departments of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology are already situated there.

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

Students and staff

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

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[1] supporting academic development and research.


In 2015, The University of South Africa is now ranked the 6th best University in South Africa by the Times Higher Education. Making the university the 6th best university in Africa out of 30 universities in Africa.[2]

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.[3]

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

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

  • 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

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. The Fundraising and Development 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

Chancellors of the University of South Africa from 1918 to 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)

  • Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Haitian politician, received a Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (D.Litt et Phil.) in African Languages in 2007
  • Walter Battiss, a South African abstract painter, received an Honorary Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (D.Litt et Phil. Honoris Causa) in 1973
  • Edwin Cameron, a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, received a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B. Cum Laude) in 1981
  • Ergun Caner, American Evangelical and Southern Baptist apologist and speaker.
  • Alan Clark, CEO of SABMiller, MA in Clinical Psychology and a Doctorate in Literature and Philosophy[4]
  • Johan Froneman, a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, received a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1977
  • King George V received an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D. Honoris Causa) in 1899, two years prior to becoming Chancellor of the University[5]
  • Pravin Gordhan, the South African Minister of Finance, received an Honorary Doctor of Commerce (D.Com. Honoris Causa) in 2007
  • Danny Jordaan, Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, received an Honorary Doctor of Administration (D.Admin. Honoris Causa) in 2006
  • Elson Kaseke, the former Solicitor-General of Belize, received a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) in 2006
  • Ahmed Kathrada, a South African politician, received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Criminology and History in 1968 and a Bachelor of Bibliography (B.Bibl.) in African Politics and Library Science in 1975
  • F. W. de Klerk, former State President of South Africa, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D. Honoris Causa) in 1995
  • Pius Langa, former Chief Justice of South Africa, received a Bachelor of Jurisprudence (B.Iuris) in 1973 and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1976
  • Nelson Mandela, former president of the Republic of South Africa, received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1942 and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1988
  • Gwede Mantashe, a South African politician, received a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) in 1997 and a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours (B.Com. Hons) in 2002
  • Trevor Manuel, a South African politician, received an Honorary Doctor of Technology (D.Tech. Honoris Causa) in 2002
  • Anja Marais, a South African Sculptor, 1998 B.F.A (Honors)
  • Mogoeng Mogoeng, current Chief Justice of South Africa, received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in 1989
  • Dikgang Moseneke, current Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in English and Political Science, a Bachelor of Jurisprudence (B.Iuris), a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.), and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D. Honoris Causa) in 2011
  • Bulelani Ngcuka, first national Director of Public Prosecutions in South Africa, received a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1985
  • Georgia Papageorge, a South African installation artist, received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Fine Arts in 1979
  • Mark Pilgrim (presenter), a South African radio and television personality, received a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) in Industrial Psychology in 1994
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, a South African politician, received a Baccalaureus Procurationis (B.Proc.) in 1981
  • Mamphela Ramphele, a South African politician, received a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) in Administration in 1983
  • Justice Raymond Zondo, a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Commercial Law, a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Labour Law, and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Patent Law

See also


  1. "Unisa - Bureaus, Centres, Institutes, Museums and Units". Retrieved 2012-01-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Top Africa". Ranking Web of World Universities. Retrieved 26 February 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Accreditation". 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-07-02. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Executive Profile: Alan Jon Clark MA, D.LitteT. Phil". Bloomberg. Retrieved 26 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Boucher, Maurice. 1973. Spes in Arduis: a history of the University of South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA. Pages 74 and 114.

External links

The University

International Cooperation

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