University of the Witwatersrand

THIS HIGHER education institution, popularly known as Wits, has achieved great things in its 87-year history as an autonomous university. By 1951, it had awarded its 10 000th qualification; 30 years later its 50 000th; and in the late 1980s the total had topped 75 000. University scholars, from Raymond Dart to Phillip Tobias, have greatly advanced the knowledge surrounding human origin and evolution. In 2007, Wits was ranked in the top one percent of institutions in the world in no fewer than seven defined fields of research (according to ISI rankings); and the university is home to 16 ‘A-rated’ scientists (rated by the National Research
Foundation) who are international leaders in their fields.

It all began with the discovery of South Africa’s vast mineral wealth in the last 3rd of the 19th century. Actually this Johannesburg-based university began in Kimberley, where diamonds had been successfully mined since the early 1870s.

The South African School of Mines was established there in 1896 and only transferred to a young Johannesburg in 1904. Name changes and subjects additional to mining and minerals and engineering being offered to students characterised the second decade of the 20th century; and in
1922 it was granted full university status.

From the start, Wits operated as an open university with a policy of non-discrimination on racial or any other grounds. This resulted in frequent clashes with the authorities, not to mention the riot police who often charged onto the campuses to break up meetings protesting against the increasingly repressive apartheid regime.

Today, the university operates five faculties and over 40 schools. The faculties are: Commerce, Law and Management; Engineering and the Built Environment; Health Sciences; Humanities; and Science. They are staffed by 1 230 academics and researchers, of whom 47 percent are women, and at least 80 percent have postgraduate degrees.

Facts and Figures  at a Glance1

Wits is a contact university only. In 2007, it had 25,101 students, of whom 20,596 were full-time and 4,505 part-time. Of the student body, 23,272 were South African citizens and 1,010 from other SADC countries, while 819 students were enrolled from non-SADC countries (Actual data, 2007).

Table 1: University of the Witwatersrand - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Actual data, 2007)


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 Honours Degree Masters Degree Doctoral Degree Occasional Students
Science, Engineering & Technology 7,419 4,932 387 438 1,114 465 82
Business, Management & Law 7,203 4,949 388 145 1,527 95 99
Humanities and Social Sciences 6,431 4,583 125 523 792 275 133
Human Sciences 4,048 2,390 60   1,297 152 150
TOTALS 25,101 16,845 960 1,106 4,730 987 464

Source: University of the Witwatersrand questionnaire response

Table 2: University of the Witwatersrand - Academic and Research staff (Actual data, 2007)

Major Field Of Study

Total Number (headcount)

Science, Engineering & Technology 434
Business, Management & Law 216
Humanities and Social Sciences 365
Health Sciences 194
Other (VC, DVC's etc.) 22
TOTALS 1,231

Source: University of the Witwatersrand questionnaire response


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