University of Cape Town

THE GOAL of this university, South Africa’s oldest, is to be Africa’s leading research university. With more than 60 specialist research units, and more than 1 650 academic and research staff spread across its six faculties, the goal has in all likelihood already been attained.

The University of Cape Town has its roots in a high school for boys, the South African College that was established in the mother city in 1829. From the outset, the College had a small tertiary facility, and for 50 years not much changed. Then the discoveries of diamonds in the late 1860s and gold twenty years later transformed not only the economy of
the South African region, but also the demand for skilled personnel. By the turn of the 19th century, the South African College had developed into a fully-fledged tertiary institution, with departments of mineralogy and geology and well-equipped science laboratories to service them.

A medical school followed, as did the introduction of engineering courses and a department of education. Thanks to substantial funding from various mining magnates, the University of Cape Town (UCT) was formally established in 1918; and ten years later the institution moved into new
buildings erected on land on the first slopes of Devil’s Peak that had been bequeathed to the nation by Cecil John Rhodes.

This site, coupled with the university’s opposition to apartheid in higher education and its generally liberal attitudes, earned UCT the epithet ‘Moscow on the hill’. As apartheid hardened through the decades following the 1950s, the university continued to admit small numbers of black students. By the 1980s these numbers began to rise so that by 2004 nearly 50 percent of the student body was black and an equal percentage was female.

UCT remains today one of the most respected teaching and research universities in South Africa.

Facts and Figures  at a Glance1

The University of Cape Town offers contact learning only. In 2006, there were 21,224 students, all of whom were full-time. The number of South African citizens numbered 16,446, while there were 2,450 students from SADC countries and 2,244 non-SADC country students. There are a further 84 students of unknown nationality (HEMIS, actual data, 2006). UCT does not currently differentiate between full-time and part-time students, except within a few very small named programmes.

Table 1: University of Cape Town - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Estimate data, 2006)


Number of students enrolled per level of study

Major Field of Study

Total Number of Students (Headcount)

Under- graduate degree/ diploma Post-graduate degree/ diploma Masters Degree Doctoral Degree Other qualifications (short courses, certificates etc.)
Science, Engineering & Technology 6,060 4,245 314 939 450 112
Business, Management & Law 6,061 4,174 1,017 555 84 232
Humanities and Social Sciences 6,125 4,148 562 609 233 573
Health Sciences 2,978 1,799 193 761 188 37
TOTALS 21,224 14,366 2,086 2,864 955 954

 Source: University of Cape Town questionnaire response

Table 2: University of Cape Town - Academic and Research staff (Actual data, 2006)

Major Field Of Study

Total Number (headcount)

Science, Engineering & Technology 480
Business, Management & Law 331
Humanities and Social Sciences 404
Health Sciences 380
Other (Centre for Higher Education Development) 63
TOTALS 1,658

Source: University of Cape Town questionnaire response



[1] All data presented in this section is headcount data.