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South Africa’s oldest university

Unisa stands for the University of South Africa. Unisa's roots go back over 130 years, which makes it the oldest university in South Africa.

The University of the Cape of Good Hope, which changed its name to the University of South Africa in 1916, was initially an examining body. It offered examinations but not tuition, and had the power to confer degrees on successful candidates. The renaming of the institution in 1916 ushered in a number of important changes: Unisa moved its headquarters from Cape Town to Pretoria; and although it continued to be an examining body, it also incorporated a number of university colleges, which later became fully autonomous teaching universities.

By 1944, a new vision of the institution as a teaching university was beginning to emerge, and in 1946, Prof AJH van der Walt was asked to investigate the possibility of devising a system of postal or correspondence tuition for non-residential students. On 15 February 1946, the Division of External Studies was established. This transformed Unisa into a teaching university that became the pioneer of tertiary distance education in the western world.

For the next five decades, Unisa steadily built up an international reputation as an affordable, credible, accessible and flexible distance education institution. Recognition was achieved in 2002 when Unisa was endorsed by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) in the United States.

In January 2004, the former Unisa merged with Technikon Southern Africa and incorporated the distance education component of Vista University (Vudec) to form the new Unisa. The merger brought together vast resources and infrastructure, while consolidating the knowledge bases built up over the years by the three former institutions. The vision of Unisa is captured in the following statement - “Towards the African university in the service of humanity”.  The university’s vision is to become Africa’s premier distance education provider, serving every country on the continent and transcending language and cultural barriers. In other words, Unisa is a university committed to making a difference in the communities it serves.

Unisa serves a global student population, primarily in Africa, but also further afield.  Our alumni include noble laureates such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The university has a student population exceeding 300 000 students (including formal degree and diploma students and students registered for short-learning programmes), making it one of the top ten mega universities in the world. Read more about Unisa here:

In step with South Africa’s transition to democracy, a period of internal transformation began for Unisa after 1994. Some of the important milestones in this process included: the inauguration in 2001 of Unisa’s first black Chancellor, Justice President Bernard Ngoepe, Judge President of the Transvaal Division of the High Court of South Africa; the appointment, also in 2001, of Prof Barney Pityana as Unisa’s Principal and Vice Chancellor; and the renaming of Unisa’s buildings to reflect the advent of democracy. The current Principal and Vice Chancellor is Prof MS Makanya who was elected to this position from 1 January 2011.

To learn more about Unisa, visit these links:

UNISA main campus


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