Research that matters

Unisa has a vibrant and dynamic research culture, and its strong transformative agenda encourages a creative approach to new ways of knowing. Here academics and postgraduate students are committed to finding research and innovative solutions that will address important national and global questions, and contribute to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of South Africa and the African continent.

At Unisa, every effort is made to create and nurture an environment where researchers can live their passion, whether they prefer to explore new worlds or apply new ideas to real-world problems. To this end it supports basic, strategic and applied research as well as innovation and commercialisation projects, invests in postgraduate studies and explores brave new frontiers in a number of key disciplines.

The university has a pool of talented researchers of whom more than 235 have received National Research Foundation (NRF) ratings. Annually, the university’s researchers contribute more than 1 323 articles to accredited journals. Unisa also boasts close to 10 700 master’s and doctoral students.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) counts 26 Unisa researchers among its membership, while 11 researchers are members of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS).

Three Unisa scientists are in the top five most cited scientists in South Africa.

At the Unisa Science Campus, the focus is on growing research capacity and supporting research activities in the fields of science, engineering and technology, as well as agriculture and environmental sciences. With leading-edge laboratories (facilities not generally associated with comprehensive open, distance and e-Learning institutions), the Science Campus is the place where scientists get to do what they love to do – putting theory into practice.

At the heart of the university and offering exceptional support to researchers, the Unisa Library is the largest academic library in our continent, and one of the best-endowed in terms of information resources and information technology. It is, moreover, one of the largest dedicated distance and open education libraries in the world.

The institution's College of Graduate Studies provides a virtual research platform for postgraduate students in all colleges, thus promoting both interdisciplinary and research excellence.

The university also houses the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (TMPL). Containing an exhaustive repository of the documents, papers and artefacts of former President Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders, TMPL is a living library and important African centre of learning, research and discourse for the transformation of Africa.

Research niche areas

Unisa has five broad research niche areas:

  • Knowledge production and human capital development in response to the needs of South Africa and the African continent
  • The promotion of democracy, human rights and responsible citizenship
  • Innovation and capacity building in science and technology
  • Economic and environmental sustainability
  • Open distance learning

Research institutes and bureaux

To provide impetus to research in these focus areas, Unisa has a number of dedicated institutes and bureaux, including the following:

  • The Archie Mafeje Institute for Applied Social Policy Research, which conducts applied research into the discourses of the family and family life, and the impact of poverty in South Africa and beyond.
  • The Bureau of Market Research, which comprises four divisions: Income and Expenditure Research, Behavioural and Communication Research, Economic Research and Demographic Research, and the division that undertakes socioeconomic research in South Africa.
  • The Institute for Corporate Citizenship, which builds individual and institutional capacity for sustainable business and social unity.
  • The Institute for Gender Studies, an interdisciplinary research hub that is committed to raising awareness of gender issues in the Southern African context.
  • The Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), an independent foreign policy think tank that advances balanced, relevant and policy-oriented analysis, debate and documentation of the global politics and diplomacy of South Africa and Africa.
  • The Institute for Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability (iNanoWS), which addresses current and emerging issues relating to water quality and water scarcity.
  • The Institute for Open Distance Learning (IODL), which is mandated to position Unisa as leading ODL institution through advancing ODL and e-learning scholarship on the African continent and the world.
  • The Institute for Science and Technology Education, which focuses on the development, provision and advancement of mathematics, science and technology education.
  • The Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS), which specialises in novel techniques for designing chemical processes with an emphasis on reducing material and energy consumption as well as carbon dioxide emissions.
  • The Research Institute for Theology and Religion, which develops and manages theological and religious research and its interface with society.

Research chairs

Unisa hosts seven endowed research chairs, and one Unisa-funded research chair.

Endowed research chairs

Unisa-funded research chair

Last modified: 2023/04/26