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University of Cape Town

University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College making it the oldest higher education institute in South Africa.[4] In terms of full university status, it is jointly the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa alongside Stellenbosch University which received full university status on the same day in 1918.

UCT is the highest-ranked African university in the QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and its Commerce, Law, and Medicine Faculties are consistently placed among the hundred best internationally. It is the only African member of the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF), within the World Economic Forum, which is made up of 26 of the world's top universities.[5] The language of instruction is English.

University of Cape Town
South African College
MottoSpes Bona
Good Hope
Established1 October 1829
EndowmentZAR11.8 billion[1]
ChancellorGraça Machel
Mamokgethi Phakeng
Campus4suburbanand 2urbancampuses
ColoursLight Blue,Dark Blue,BlackandWhite


The University of Cape Town was founded in 1829 as the South African College, a high school for boys. The College had a small tertiary-education facility that grew substantially after 1880, when the discovery of gold and diamonds in the north - and the resulting demand for skills in mining - gave it the financial boost it needed to grow. The College developed into a fully fledged university during the period 1880 to 1900, thanks to increased funding from private sources and the government.

During these years, the College built its first dedicated science laboratories, and started the departments of mineralogy and geology to meet the need for skilled personnel in the country's emerging diamond and gold-mining industries.

Another key development during this period was the admission of women.

In 1886 the Professor of Chemistry, Paul Daniel Hahn, convinced the Council to admit four women into his chemistry class on a trial basis.

Owing to the exceptional standard of work by the women students, the College decided to admit women students permanently in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1887.

The years 1902 to 1918 saw the establishment of the Medical School, the introduction of engineering courses and a Department of Education.

UCT was formally established as a university in 1918, on the basis of the Alfred Beit bequest and additional substantial gifts from mining magnates Julius Wernher and Otto Beit. The new university also attracted substantial support from well-wishers in the Cape Town area and, for the first time, a significant state grant. Ten years later, in 1928, the university was able to move the bulk of its facilities to the magnificent site at Groote Schuur on the slopes of Devil's Peak on land bequeathed to the nation by Cecil John Rhodes as the site for a national university. UCT celebrated its centenary the following year.

"Moscow on the Hill" Apart from establishing itself as a leading research and teaching university in the decades that followed, UCT earned itself the nickname "Moscow on the Hill" during the period 1960 to 1990 for its sustained opposition to apartheid, particularly in higher education.

The university admitted its first small group of black students in the 1920s.

The number of black students remained relatively low until the 1980s and 90s, when the institution, reading and welcoming the signs of change in the country, committed itself to a deliberate and planned process of internal transformation.

From the 1980s to the early 1990s, the number of black students admitted to the university rose by 35 percent.

By 2004, nearly half of UCT's 20,000 students were black and just under half of the student body was female.

Today the university boasts having one of the most diverse campuses in South Africa.[6]

The UCT crest was designed in 1859 by Charles Davidson Bell, Surveyor-General of the Cape Colony at the time. Bell was an accomplished artist who also designed medals and the triangular Cape stamp.


A view of Upper Campus, looking west from the rugby fields that separate Upper Campus from Middle Campus, with Devil's Peak in the background.

A view of Upper Campus, looking west from the rugby fields that separate Upper Campus from Middle Campus, with Devil's Peak in the background.

Hiddingh Hall Library on Hiddingh Campus in Gardens, Cape Town.

Hiddingh Hall Library on Hiddingh Campus in Gardens, Cape Town.

Sarah Baartman Hall and Memorial Plaza, the focal point Upper Campus.

Sarah Baartman Hall and Memorial Plaza, the focal point Upper Campus.

The main teaching campus, known as Upper Campus, is located on the Rhodes Estate on the slopes of Devil's Peak. This campus contains, in a relatively compact site, the faculties of Science, Engineering, Commerce, and Humanities (except for the arts departments), as well as Smuts Hall and Fuller Hall residences. Upper Campus is centered on Memorial Hall, the location for graduation and other ceremonial events, as well as many examinations. The original buildings and layout of Upper Campus were designed by JM Solomon and built between 1928 and 1930. Since that time, many more buildings have been added as the university has grown. Upper Campus is also home to the main library, The Chancellor Oppenheimer library which holds the majority of the University's 1.3 million volume collection.

Contiguous with Upper Campus, but separated from it by university sports fields and the M3 expressway, are the Middle and Lower Campuses. These campuses, which are spread through the suburbs of Rondebosch, Rosebank and Mowbray, contain the Law faculty, the South African College of Music, the School of Economics, most of the student residences, most of the university administrative offices, and various sporting facilities. The state of the art artificial grass soccer field has been approved by FIFA for training for World Cup teams.[7] The Upper, Middle and Lower Campuses together are often referred to as the "main campus".

The Faculty of Health Sciences is located on the Medical School campus next to the Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory. The Fine Arts and Drama departments are located on the Hiddingh Campus in central Cape Town. The University's original building, now known as the Egyptian Building, on the Hiddingh campus, was built in the Egyptian Revival style. The only other campus built in this style was the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia in the United States. The UCT Graduate School of Business is located on the Breakwater Lodge Campus at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

For his contribution of the tract of land which the campus was founded on, a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes was erected in 1934 on the Upper Campus, overlooking the university's rugby fields.

The statue was removed in April 2015 following pressure from student groups due to its representation of South Africa's colonialist apartheid past and the university's inadequate representation of black students, faculty, and staff.

Residential halls

Tugwell Hall

Tugwell Hall

  • Baxter Hall was established in 1957, and accommodates 233 women in mainly single rooms. Nine pavilions are grouped around two central quads with lawns, trees and park benches. Each pavilion comprises six flats of 3 – 6 rooms.

  • Clarinus Village

  • College House was established in 1887 and is the oldest university residence in Africa. It accommodates 119 men in mainly single rooms.

  • Dullah Omar Hall

  • Fuller Hall

  • Glendower (Glenres)

  • Graca Machel Hall

  • Kilindini

  • Kopano Residence

  • Leo Marquard Hall

  • Rochester House

  • Smuts Hall

  • Tugwell Hall

  • University House

  • Varietas

  • Forest Hill

  • The Woolsack

  • Obz Square

  • Liesbeeck Gardens


The Kramer Building, home of the Law Faculty, in 2006.

The Kramer Building, home of the Law Faculty, in 2006.

The University of Cape Town was originally incorporated as a public university by a private act of Parliament in 1918. At present it is incorporated and structured by an institutional statute issued under the provisions of the Higher Education Act, 1997.

The titular head of the University is the Chancellor; this is a ceremonial position without executive power. The primary role of the Chancellor is to confer degrees on behalf of the University, and to represent the University to the rest of the world. The current Chancellor is Ms Graça Machel, elected for her first 10-year term in September 1999 and re-elected in May 2010.

The executive head of the University is the Vice-Chancellor (or VC). The VC has the overall responsibility for the policy and administration of the University. The current VC is Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, who replaced Dr Max Price on 1 July 2018. The VC is assisted in her tasks by a number of Deputy Vice-Chancellors (DVCs) who handle specific portfolios. The Registrar is responsible for the academic administration of the University, as well as legal matters, and is secretary to the University Council and Senate.

The academic departments of UCT are divided into six faculties: Commerce, Engineering and the Built Environment, Health Sciences, Humanities, Law, and Science; each faculty is led by a Dean. The multidisciplinary Center for Higher Education Development rates on a level equal to the faculties. Although the Graduate School of Business is considered to be part of the Faculty of Commerce, it is run independently and has its own Dean and Director. The departments of the faculties in listed beneath:

Faculty of Commerce [8]

  • College of Accounting

  • School of Economics (jointly established with Faculty of Humanities)

  • Department of Finance and Tax

  • Department of Information Systems

  • School of Management Studies

  • Graduate School of Business

Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment [9]

  • Department of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics

  • Department of Chemical Engineering

  • Department of Civil Engineering

  • Department of Construction Economics and Management

  • Department of Electrical Engineering

  • Department of Mechanical Engineering

Faculty of Health Sciences [10]

  • Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine

  • Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

  • Department of Health Sciences Education

  • Department of Human Biology

  • Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences

  • Department of Medicine

  • Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

  • Department of Paediatrics and Child Health

  • Department of Pathology

  • Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health

  • Department of Public Health and Family Medicine

  • Department of Radiation Medicine

  • Department of Surgery

Faculty of Humanities [11]

  • School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics

  • School of Dance

  • Department of Drama

  • School of Economics (jointly established with Faculty of Commerce)

  • School of Education

  • Department of English Language and Literature

  • Center for Film and Media Studies

  • Michaelis School of Fine Art

  • Department of Historical Studies

  • School of Languages and Literatures

  • South African College of Music

  • Department of Philosophy

  • Department of Political Studies

  • Department of Psychology

  • Department of Religious Studies

  • Department of Social Development

  • Department of Sociology

Faculty of Law [12]

  • Department of Commercial Law

  • Department of Private Law

  • Department of Public Law

Faculty of Science [13]

  • Department of Archaeology

  • Department of Astronomy

  • Department of Biological Sciences

  • Department of Chemistry

  • Department of Computer Science

  • Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

  • Department of Geological Sciences

  • Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics

  • Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

  • Department of Oceanography

  • Department of Physics

  • Department of Statistical Sciences


Total research funding: R1.5 billion

Students and staff

As of 2016, 29,074 students were enrolled (18 421 undergraduates and 10 653 postgraduates) and 4 542 staff were employed (1 179 academic and 3 363 professional, administrative, support and service staff).[14] The ratio between male and female students is almost exactly 50:50.

The student body makeup comprises 30.70% "SA White" students, 43.98% non-white students (SA Black, SA Coloured & SA Indian), and the remaining 25.29% identify as "international" and "other".

International students account for 17.73% of total student enrolment at 4674, representing over 100 countries.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola noted that, in 2017, UCT employed 45 white professors, 38 Black African, coloured or Indian professors, 67 foreign national professors and 7 who did not disclose their race.[15]

Student Enrollment Student enrollment by population group 2009 - 2013, showing percentage growth on base[16][17]

200920102011201220132014% Growth% Of Total
SA Black50685323574460126199681328.67%25.23%
SA coloured3623365336873530357336010.73%13.34%
SA Indian16301681167117011714181311.6%6.72%
SA white898491838992881484348093-10.69%30%

UCT employs over 5000 staff members of whom 44% are academic staff; the rest are administrative and support staff.

In 2007 UCT had 866 permanent academic staff members.

Between 85% and 90% of academic staff hold doctoral or masters qualifications.

The UCT Employment Equity Plan April (2010 to March 2015) indicates moderate but consistent changes in the demographic makeup of the staff body.

The five-year plan specifies specific targets ranging from between about 5% to 10% adjustments in the representation of SA Black staff.

According to the plan the staff makeup would have changed by 2015 by achieving either parity or more SA Black staff than SA white in all categories other than senior lecturer and professor positions.[18]

Student life

Looking south on the north end of University Avenue on Upper Campus.

Looking south on the north end of University Avenue on Upper Campus.

UCT has 36 different sports clubs, including team sports, individual sports, extreme sports and martial arts.[19] The university's sports teams, and in particular the rugby union team, are known as the "Ikey Tigers" or the "Ikeys". The "Ikey" nickname originated in the 1910s as an anti-semitic epithet applied to UCT students by the students of Stellenbosch University, because of the supposed large number of Jewish students at UCT.[20] Stellenbosch is UCT's traditional rugby opponent; an annual "Intervarsity" match is played between the two universities. UCT has a total exceeding 9000 recognised sports participants.[21]

There are more than 80 student societies at UCT; these fall generally into five categories:[22]

  • Academic societies for those interested in a particular field of study or studying a particular topic: The most prominent of these include the History and Current Affairs Society (HCA), United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA) and Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ).

  • Political societies, including branches of the youth wings of national political parties such as the South African Students Congress (SASCO), the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO), and the African National Congress Youth League.

  • Religious societies, some of which are associated with religious denominations or local places of worship.

  • National/cultural societies for students from particular countries or particular ethnic backgrounds.

  • Special interest societies (such as RainbowUCT, the university's LGBTI society, UCT Mountain & Ski Club, UCT Ballroom and Latin dancing) for those interested in various activities or issues.

In addition to the plethora of student societies, there are several student organisations dedicated to the development of communities surrounding the University in the Cape Metropolitan Area.

Some of the biggest include: SHAWCO, Ubunye and RAG.[23] Recently, several students movements have developed, such as the Green Campus Initiative.


The University of Cape Town achieved a rank of 198 in the 2019 QS World University Rankings[25] and a rank of 156 in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings,[26] making it the highest-ranked African university in these rankings. It is ranked in the 301-400 by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, placing it second in the continent behind the University of the Witwatersrand.[24]


UCT is a member of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), the Association of African Universities, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Cape Higher Education Consortium, Higher Education South Africa, the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the International Association of Universities.

Notable alumni

J. M. Coetzee, twice awarded the Booker Prize and awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, read mathematics and was admitted to the degree of Master of Arts at the University of Cape Town.

J. M. Coetzee, twice awarded the Booker Prize and awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, read mathematics and was admitted to the degree of Master of Arts at the University of Cape Town.

Five of the University's graduates have become Nobel Laureates:[29]

  • Ralph Bunche, American political scientist and diplomat awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his role in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

  • Max Theiler, virologist awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1951 for developing a vaccine against yellow fever.

  • Professor Allan McLeod Cormack, physicist awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine (1979) for his work on X-ray computed tomography

  • Sir Aaron Klug, chemist and biophysicist awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1982) for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy and his structural elucidation of biologically important nucleic acid-protein complexes

  • Professor Emeritus J. M. Coetzee (Literature, 2003)

Notable staff (past and present)

Notable research

  • The Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics is an international centre for research in the fields of cosmology and topology.

  • The Centre for Rhetoric Studies, the only one of its kind on the African Continent (director: Philippe-Joseph Salazar).

  • The Department of Physics is home to the UCT-CERN research centre, which is partially responsible for the software design of the High Level Trigger component of the ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, as well as other activities related to ALICE.

  • The Department of Electrical Engineering is involved in the development of technology for the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT). KAT is a precursor to the Square Kilometer Array, a proposed International project to build the world's largest radio telescope by 2020. Research groups in RF design and digital design contribute to the RF front-end and digital back-end of the KAT project.

  • The Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM)[30] is engaged in research on candidate tuberculosis vaccines, and is developing candidate HIV vaccines matched to the South African epidemic.

  • The OpenUCT Initiative[31] is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and works to make UCT's research, teaching and learning materials openly available online. Major research projects include the African Climate Development Initiative [40] (ACDI) pilot curation project, Digital Scholarship in Emerging Knowledge Domains [41] and Open Data in the Governance of South African Higher Education [42] and Scholarly Communication in Africa [43] (SCAP)

  • The Department of Archaeology has found some of the oldest evidence of art and abstract thought in the world.

  • Specifically, engrained ostrich eggshell water containers dated to 60,000 years ago[32]

  • The African Centre for Cities is one of the few research organizations focusing on urbanism in Africa.[33]


A debate at UCT over the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes spawned Rhodes Must Fall movement. The FeesMustFall movement, which began at Wits and spread to UCT, was inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall protests.

Destruction and censorship of art

Since the removal of the Rhodes statue, other art has been removed or destroyed.

FeesMustFall students burned 23 of the university's historical paintings in February 2016.[34][35]

According to GroundUp, art experts connected to the university are concerned about intolerance towards art at the institution, as UCT has removed and censored 75 further "vulnerable" art which it claims are offensive to students.[36][37]

An Artworks Task Team was set up in September 2015 to assess art at the university "with a view to transformation and inclusivity",[37] and went about finding "artworks on campus that may be seen to recognize or celebrate colonial oppressors and/or which may be offensive or controversial", and specifically artworks deemed to be "offensive" in their depiction of black people.

Both Stanley Pinker’s Decline and Fall, which makes ironic use of colonial iconology, and Breyten Breytenbach's Hovering Dog, which shows a black person wearing a white mask and a white person wearing a black mask, were removed;[36] and Diane Victor’s Pasiphaë, which depicts black farmers with allusions to Greek mythology, was covered by a wooden panel.[34] In response, Breyten Breytenbach remarked that UCT were making fools of themselves,[38] while Diane Victor thought UCT's actions were “slightly comical” and her artwork was being understood on a “simplistic level”.[39]

Jacques Rousseau, then chair of the Academic Freedom Committee, told GroundUp: “There are a number of artworks in UCT’s collection that could legitimately be regarded as problematic. Even so, any piece of art is potentially offensive to someone, and the very point of art is to provoke reflection and sometimes discomfort." The Academic Freedom Committee noted with "grave concern recent instances of threats to academic freedom".[36]

The South African Human Rights Commission was investigating the matter as of May 2017, in order to determine whether the University was infringing on the constitutional right to freedom of expression, in particular the right to artistic creativity.[37]

See also

  • Centre for Curating the Archive

  • List of universities in South Africa

  • Education in South Africa

  • Chancellor of the University of Cape Town

  • Open access in South Africa and List of South African open access repositories


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