University of South Africa UNISA

THE FIRST higher education examining body in the South African region was the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Six years after Union in 1910, the institution (which set examinations but offered no tuition) changed its name to University of South Africa (UNISA); and two years later, in 1918, it moved from Cape Town to Pretoria. Once installed in the administrative capital, it continued to be the national examining body. It also incorporated a number of university colleges in their formative years before they became autonomous universities. However, the idea of teaching at UNISA would soon take root. Was there not a possibility of devising a system of postal tuition for people living far from the main urban centres where the universities had tended to develop?

UNISA answered this question by establishing a Division of External Studies in 1946, a course of action that rendered the university an international pioneer in distance education. In 1972, UNISA moved into huge modern buildings on Pretoria’s Muckleneuk Ridge; and after 1994 major internal changes prepared the institution for life in a democracy.

These changes culminated in the merging of UNISA with another large distance learning institution, Technikon Southern Africa (initially the distance learning arm of Technikon Witwatersrand) and the incorporation of Vista University’s Distance Education Campus to form easily the largest and academically most versatile distance learning campus in Africa. Nearly a quarter of a million students study courses, both degree and vocational, that are provided through UNISA’s five colleges.

These are: the College of Economic and Management Sciences; the College of Human Sciences; the College of Law; the College of Science, Engineering and Technology; and the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The university also houses scores of centres and institutes. A recent addition is the Centre for African Renaissance Studies that specialises in unlocking the continent’s intellectual wealth.

Facts and Figures  at a Glance1

UNISA is a distance learning institution. In 2006, it had 770 contact students but the majority, 226,769, were distant students. Of these, 208,720 were South African citizens, while 13,375 were from other SADC countries and 4,676 from non-SADC countries (Actual data, 2006). No figures were available to discriminate between full-time and part-time students.

Table 1: University of South Africa UNISA  - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Actual data, 2006)2


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 24,109 21,177 0 107 43 2,783
Business, Management & Law 95,604 89,489 977 1,689 94 3,356
Humanities and Social Sciences 105,849 90,898 2,746 3,337 749 8,119
Health Sciences 1,976 1,551 0 327 62 36
TOTALS 227,538 203,115 3,723 5,460 948 14,294

 Source: University of South Africa UNISA  questionnaire response

Table 2: University of South Africa UNISA - Academic and Research staff (Actual data, 2006)

Major Field Of Study

Total Number (headcount)

Science, Engineering & Technology 192
Business, Management & Law 612
Humanities and Social Sciences 547
Health Sciences 31
Other (Agricultural Sciences) 11
TOTALS 1,393

Source: University of South Africa UNISA questionnaire response

[1] All data presented in this section is headcount data.
[2] Note that in some instances total numbers of students do not tally accurately and could not be verified.