While much is often written about South Africa’s traditional universities, it may come as a surprise to know that the country has 26 universities in total, following the launch of three new institutions since 2014.
The newest learning institution, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, located north of Pretoria, was unveiled in April 2015, adding to the two launched in 2014, namely Sol Plaatje University, in the Northern Cape, and the University of Mpumalanga.
South Africa’s universities accommodate in excess of 1 million students, with plans by government to add 500,000 to that total by 2030.
A tally of the most accurate figures shows that 25 of the 26 schools have a combined total exceeding 622,000, while Unisa, with 400,000 students, is the biggest tertiary institution in SA.
The country’s universities are divided into the following categories:
  • 9 universities of technology focused on vocationally oriented education;
  • 6 comprehensive universities offering a combination of academic and vocational diplomas and degrees;
  • 11 traditional universities offering theoretically oriented university degrees.
Pretoria, perhaps surprisingly, is home to as many as five universities, despite its relative size (2.1 million people), when compared to Johannesburg (9.4 million), and Cape Town (3.7 million).
Cape Town has three universities, with an additional university nearby in Stellenbosch. Johannesburg is serviced by three universities, while Bloemfontein and Durban each have two.
UniversityLocationNo. of students
University of South Africa (UNISA)Pretoria400,000
North-West UniversityPotchefstroom74,355
University of PretoriaPretoria50,000
Tshwane University of TechnologyPretoria50,000
University of JohannesburgJohannesburg48,500
University of KwaZulu-NatalDurban and Pietermaritzburg40,000
University of the Free StateBloemfontein33,000
Cape Peninsula University of TechnologyCape Town33,000
University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburg32,703
University of StellenboschStellenbosch30,150
University of Cape TownCape Town26,322
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort Elizabeth and George26,000
Walter Sisulu UniversityEast London and Mthatha25,000
Durban University of TechnologyDurban and Pietermaritzburg25,000
University of LimpopoTurfloop and Pretoria20,000
Vaal University of TechnologyJohannesburg17,000
University of ZululandEmpangeni16,100
University of the Western CapeTygerberg, Cape Town15,200
Central University of TechnologyBloemfontein13,534
University of Fort HareAlice and East London12,000
University of VendaThohoyandou12,000
Mangosuthu University of TechnologyUmlazi, Durban10,000
Rhodes UniversityGrahamstown7,000
Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences UniversityPretoria5,060
University of MpumalangaMbombela140
Sol Plaatje UniversityKimberley135
Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education and training noted last week that the proportion of African students in universities has increased dramatically from 49% in 1995 and is estimated to 72% at present.
“We want our universities to become African universities in a developing country that has a history of racist and gender based, class exploitation. These universities, all of them, must shed all the problematic features of their apartheid and colonial past.
“To be Africanised means they must become universities capable of contributing in all respects (research, curriculum, etc) to the developmental goals of our country. They must be conscious of both backward and forward linkages in the task of transforming themselves and our country,” he said.