THE UNIVERSITY of the Western Cape was one of the few universities unaffected by the rationalisation of higher education in post-apartheid South Africa. It was established in 1959 to serve the large ‘coloured’ population of the Cape Peninsula and beyond. In this sense it was an apartheid creation, and to begin with, according to the institution itself, students were offered ‘limited training for lower to middle level positions in schools, the civil service and other institutions designed to serve a separated Coloured community’.
Academic programmes improved after 1975, when the institution gained university status and was able to design its own programmes and award its own degrees. The situation improved even further when in 1975, as a result of on-campus protests, the first black rector was installed.
Intellectual debate flourished, one result of which was a 1982 mission statement that rejected apartheid, adopting instead a declaration of nonracialism and a commitment to ‘the development of the Third World communities in South Africa’. In 1983, the institution became autonomous on the same terms as established ‘white’ universities like nearby University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch.
The university opened its programmes to all races and began to operate under the banner of ‘an intellectual home of the left’, a stance that brought it into frequent collision with the authorities. After 1994, however, President Nelson Mandela praised the University of the Western Cape for having transformed itself from an apartheid ethnic institution to a proud national asset.
The university was established in the northern suburbs of greater Cape Town, in the municipality of Tygerberg, and it continues to operate there. Nearly 500 academic and research staff offer undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the university’s seven faculties: Arts; Community and Health Science; Dentistry; Economic and Management Science; Education; Law; and Natural Science.
Facts and Figures at a Glance1
UWC had 14,788 contact students and 50 distance students in 2006. No breakdown was available for the number of full-time and part-time students. Of the student total, 13,522 were South African citizens, while 593 were from other SADC countries and 382 from non-SADC countries (HEMIS data, 2006).
Table 1: University of the Western Cape - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Actual 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
Other qualifications (short courses, certificates etc.)
Science, Engineering & Technology
Business, Management & Law
Humanities and Social Sciences
Source: University of the Western Cape questionnaire response
In 2006, UWC had a total of 476 academic and research staff. No breakdown of staff numbers by major field of study was available.
 All data presented in this section is headcount data.