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The former Unisa

Unisa was officially established on 26 June 1873 and has a proud history in South Africa. For 140 years we've been supporting students to achieve their dreams by offering a multitude of qualifications originally through correspondence teaching and now through open distance learning.

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 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.