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Our history

From the establishment of the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1873 and the subsequent creation of Unisa in 1918, to our current student and staff contingent of over 360 000, Unisa has a history that is both unique and fascinating.

Find out more about Unisa, its inception and milestones in the timeline below.


The University of the Cape of Good Hope is established in Cape Town in 1873 and receives a royal charter in 1877.
Government university bills are enacted creating three universities, two teaching universities, the University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch, and one examining university, Unisa. The University of the Cape of Good Hope is incorporated into Unisa.
At this stage the institution is not a teaching entity, but an examining body for Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Division of External Studies is established by Prof AJH van der Walt and trials in correspondence learning begin.
Unisa becomes a fully fledged correspondence university.
This decade saw an increase in the use of radio, audio and video cassettes as Unisa embraced technologies to bridge the distance between the university and its students. In 1973, Unisa’s Muckleneuk Campus is established.

As a fully fledged correspondence university, there is a focus on the increased use of multimedia.

Throughout the apartheid years in South Africa, Unisa was the only way in which many black students could access higher education; in fact, Nelson Mandela, the country’s first post-apartheid leader, studied through Unisa while incarcerated.
Prof N Barney Pityana is inaugurated as Vice-Chancellor of Unisa.
Unisa merges with SA’s two other major distance education service providers, Technikon Southern Africa and Vista University. Following the merger, Unisa becomes the sole provider of distance education in the country. It is the largest distance institution in Africa and among the largest in the world.

Embracing distance learning as a comprehensive institution.

Following the adoption of a new vision in 2005, the institution visits other open universities, launches an integrated learning management platform and launches its open distance learning (ODL) initiatives with the establishment of the UNESCO Chair in ODL.
Further initiatives relating to ODL follow and major efforts go into integrating and optimising a range of technologies and stakeholders to advance Unisa’s ODL character. Today, Unisa is a mega-comprehensive ODL institution with more than 350 000 students.
Prof Mandla Makhanya takes over as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa.

ODL takes centre stage and major efforts go into advancing Unisa's ODL character.