South Africa is known to have some of the best universities in Africa. Search any global university ranking and you’re likely to find at least two or three South African universities listed. There are many that don’t make the cut but we at Africa.com believe that South Africa offers world-class learning experiences—so much so that they are sought out by other African students and thousands from abroad.
1University of Cape Town (UCT) – Cape Town
Located on the slopes of Devil’s Peak in Cape Town, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is the country’s oldest university. Established in 1829, initially as a high school for boys, it is now home to more than 25,000 students and close to 1,000 academic staff members. UCT attracts a large number of international students who currently make up close to 20 percent of the student body.
In 2015, the university launches a multi-million dollar scholarship project that is set to benefit over 300 students from across Africa. The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program has awarded over $23 million in funding toward this initiative over the next 10 years.
UCT has recently launched a series of interactive online postgraduate programs offered by its faculty of commerce in a bid to attract more students from across the continent.
2University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) – Johannesburg
The University of Witwatersrand (Wits) is considered one of the top research institutions on the continent, boasting 20 South African Research Chairs, seven research institutes and 20 research units.
Located in the heart of central Johannesburg, just under 900 academic staff cater to over 30,000 students, ten percent of whom are international students. According to the university, 90 percent of its graduates obtain permanent employment within one-year of graduating.
Along with 14 museums and two art galleries, its 12 libraries allow students access to over 1 million book volumes, close to 400,000 journal titles, and over 40,000 new electronic resources. The university is also home to one of the largest fossil collections in the Southern Hemisphere.
3Stellenbosch University (US) – Stellenbosch
Popularly known by its nickname “Maties,” Stellenbosch University is recognised as one of the top research universities in the country. Over 28,000 students are enrolled across the university’s ten faculties that is spread across 5 campuses, with close to 35 percent being postgraduate enrolments. International students make up over 10 percent of those admitted, with more than three-quarter of those coming from other parts of Africa.
The university boasts the highest throughput rate of first-year students at 87 percent, and an overall undergraduate success rate of 83,9 percent. The university has a total of 975 academic staff members, and 13 A-rated researchers, with 60 percent of its permanently appointed teaching/research staff holding doctorates. It has total of 18 research chairs awarded by the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI).
In 2013 the university opened its first business incubator called LaunchLab that provides student entrepreneurs a platform to develop and test their business ideas.
4University of Pretoria (UP) – Pretoria
The University of Pretoria (locally known as “Tuks / Tukkies” due to its previous name, Transvaal University College) is considered one of the leading research universities in South Africa and is also one of the largest largest in the country. It has grown from a four-bedroom residential property with just over 30 students in the early 1900s, to over 50,000 students today.
The university now offers more than 1,800 programs at its main campus located in the country’s capital and at its other campus spread across the province. It will also become the first university in Africa to offer simulated underground mining training at a Virtual Reality Mine Design Centre. The $1.7 million project will simulate a range of mining functions, including accident reconstruction and risk analysis. UP is also home to the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), one of the country’s leading Business Schools, which offers internationally accredited MBA programs.
5University of the Western Cape (UWC) – Cape Town
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has a great historical significance in South Africa, as it offered an educational home to many during the country’s apartheid struggle. In the early 1960s, the first group of less than 200 students were enrolled at the institution established for separate those classified as “coloured.”
The university currently has around 15,000 students (with at least 20 percent being postgraduate students), and its three campuses offer more than 200 degree, diploma and certificate programs. Half of its academic staff hold doctorates.
The university’s research focus areas include biotechnology (through its renowned South African National Bioinformatics Institute that was developed within UWCs Natural Sciences faculty and produced the first PhD in Bioinformatics graduate in Africa in 2000), cultural studies, and exploration/applied geochemistry. UWC is also home to the Green Nanotechnology Centre that was established in 2014 in partnership with the University of Missouri. The new research facility is dedicated to researching environmentally friendly technology that can be used to both diagnose and treat diseases.
Along with having the largest School of Mathematics and Science Education in Africa, UWC is also home to the continent’s main centre for Free and Open Source Software development.
6University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN) – Durban
With five campuses located in two cities – Durban and Pietermaritzburg – the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) was established in 2004 following a merger between University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal. It now has a population of over 45,000 students (close to 34,000 undergraduate, more than 11,000 post grauduate, and nearly 1,000 PhD students), and close to 1,600 academic staff. This makes it one of the largest universities in sub-Saharan Africa.
Close to 3,000 students are international, with the majority coming from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, and others from as far as China and India. More than 60 percent of the university’s 2014 graduands were women, with over 280 graduating cum laude and over 100 summa cum laude.
The university’s faculty of business and management sciences sent 10 students on its international exchange program to partner institutions in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The program has been running for more than a decade and in turn receives more than 30 students at its campus every semester.
7Rhodes University – Grahamstown
Named after Cecil John Rhodes – founder of what we now know as Zimbabwe as well as the diamond company De Beers – Rhodes University is one of the smaller, with around 7,000 students, yet most diverse institutions.
Located in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, it’s a popular student exchange destination—international students from close to 60 countries across the globe fill up a quarter of the classrooms. It also allows for a favourable staff to student ratio, on average one lecturer to 15 students.
Rhodes is also home to the International Library of African Music (ILAM), an institution dedicated to the study and preservation of the continents’ music and oral arts. It boasts an extensive collection that is said to be the “greatest repository of African music in the world”.The university’s school of Journalism and Media Studies is considered to be one of the best in the country, with many top journalists graduating from there.
The university is one of only two South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) accredited universities that achieved a 100 percent pass rate in 2014, with 40 of its students passing the initial test of competence (ITC) that same year.
8University of the Free State (UFS) – Bloemfontein
Before 2001, the University of the Free State (UFS) had already undergone two name changes. The most recent was to “reflect the real character of the university and its environment.” Based in the country’s judicial capital of Bloemfontein, the University is made of three campuses spread across the city. It hosts more than 33,000 students, including more than 2,000 foreign students.
From being the first university in the country to have a Department of Sign Language (and the first to offer a Ph.D. in this field), to being the only institution on the continent with a postgraduate programme in Disaster Management, the UFS has proven itself to be a leader across various sectors. Their Doping Control Laboratory – one of only two in Africa – provides drug-testing for both local and international sporting events.
9University of Johannesburg (UJ) – Johannesburg
In 2005, three institutions merged to form the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The result is four campuses at various locations across the city, including Auckland Park and Soweto. UJ now caters to over 48,000 enrolled students across its four campuses – with its international student count more than doubling in recent years to a total of 2,000 students.
The university has invested heavily in research output in recent years, with over 20 research centres and more than 130 rate researchers. The university was recently awarded 120 postdoctoral research fellowships (mainly in the Science and Humanities faculties), with an aim to expand this number to 200 by 2020.
10Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) – Cape Town
Established in 2005 following a merger between the Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology has six faculties that offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Fields include Applied Sciences, Business, Education and Social Sciences, Engineering, Informatics and Design, as well as Health and Wellness Sciences.
Just over 33,000 students are enrolled at (CPUT) five campuses (more than a third in the business faculty) – with the main ones located near Cape Town CBD and the other in Bellville, with smaller ones across the city that offer specialist training (such as their hotel school in Granger Bay). More than 54 percent of students are female, with close to 5 percent being postgraduate enrolments and nearly 10 percent hailing from countries across Africa.
Known for excelling in creative specialist areas of study and for taking a practical, hands-on approach to teaching (particularly in areas of design), CPUT currently has close to 800 academic staff members.