Unisa will reach a milestone in its history next year when it celebrates its 140th anniversary. The university community will engage in a rich tapestry of celebratory activities in 2013 to mark this milestone.
History of 140 years – the brief facts
Unisa was founded in 1873 as the University of Good Hope. It operated initially as an examining body and in 1916 changed its name to the University of South Africa (Unisa). In 1946 Unisa became the first public university in the world to teach exclusively by means of distance education.
Having moved from Cape Town to Pretoria in 1918, the university moved to its present main campus on Pretoria’s Muckleneuk Ridge in 1972. After 1994, major internal changes began to prepare the university for life in the new democracy.
In 2004 Unisa merged with another large distance learning institution, Technikon Southern Africa, and also incorporated VUDEC (the former Vista University’s Distance Education Campus). It became the largest university in both South Africa and Africa. As a comprehensive university and one of the world’s mega universities, it boasted more than 400 000 students in 2012.
The university has come to enrol students from 130 countries around the world. The student profile is diverse and underscores the university’s role in advancing transformation, growth and development.
Unisa has a presence across South Africa. It has a student campus at Sunnyside in Pretoria, Tshwane, and a science and technology hub in Johannesburg. Apart from these facilities, it has seven regional offices (including one in Ethiopia) and 28 learning centres countrywide.
Throughout its 140 years, Unisa has continued to provide all people – regardless of race, colour or creed – with access to higher education. While being a truly national university, it is also proudly African. Its sheer size and resource base allow it to advance capacity development on the continent.
Through its academic programmes offered in seven colleges, relevant research and innovation, and community engagement initiatives, the university not only acknowledges its African roots but also responds to the needs of both South Africa and the African continent.
The anniversary celebrations
Unisa will use its 140th anniversary celebrations as an occasion to recognise its pioneering history and to acknowledge its past.
At the same time it will take pride in showcasing its achievements, including recent and present highlights, while it also will clearly express its hopes for the future as well as the promise of its ongoing trajectory of transformation.
The overarching theme for Unisa’s anniversary celebrations is that the university is not only considering and reflecting on its history, but that it is also forward looking, pointing the way ahead, mapping its own future while also shaping many futures.
The anniversary celebration themes will portray the university’s journey from being a correspondence institution towards becoming a premier provider of distance learning at present – while it pursues the dream of being contextually relevant and leading edge in a predominantly digital future. Unisa will also continue to embrace the idea of creating a truly distinctive community and family of stakeholders, students and friends – as well as the foundations of a trail-blazing spirit and character.
Programme of activities and events
The 140 anniversary programme will entail a rich tapestry of activities and events that will seek to involve all stakeholders wherever the university has a presence. Taking place throughout the year, the activities will range from producing special publications and presenting key public lectures and events, to academic colloquia, honorary graduation ceremonies including the conferment of honorary degrees, special awards and fundraising/ friend-raising drives.
Specific publications are envisaged, for instance, a special commemorative coffee table book, publications in the Road to Democracy series, re-publication of the Black Review, and Katlego: A journey to success, among others.
Key lectures that will be presented include African Intellectuals and Knowledge Systems, Africa Day Lecture, Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture, Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, Es’kia Mphahlele Memorial Lecture, and the Founders Lecture.
University events that will be given a celebratory slant are the official academic opening ceremony of Unisa and service awards, launch of the Road to Democracy series, official opening of the Unisa Science Campus at Florida during the celebration of the National Science Week, the Unisa-Cambridge International Conference on ODeL, recognition of 70 years of service on the occasion of former President Thabo Mbeki’s 71st birthday, international fundraising initiatives in New York, London and Addis Ababa, Unisa music competitions, the CREDO event as a testament to the Freedom Charter, the VC’s women’s empowerment gala dinner, a poetry evening, and the official closing ceremony of the university and service excellence awards.
Planned academic colloquia and events include the hosting of symposia specific to each of the university’s seven colleges.
Initiatives by the Unisa Library and the Unisa Art Gallery will convey themes in connection with the university’s history as a unique institution.
In celebrating its 140th anniversary, Unisa will acknowledge not only its pioneering spirit as a national treasure and its African roots, but also its global intent and commitment to intellectual development.
Written by Gerard Grobler