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South Africa’s biggest University by area is also its best

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South Africa’s biggest University by area is also its best

Based on the newest international rankings, University of Cape Town has now been established as South Africa’s best, biggest and oldest university.

South Africa is home to more than 20 public universities (and several other tertiary institutions) and there is always a great debate around which of these universities is the best.

Being one of the country’s best universities encompasses many different factors not only related to academic achievements, but also to research, student life and overall quality of education. This is why pitting South Africa’s top public universities against each other can get so complicated.

South Africa’s best university in 2024

There is a number of local and international institutions that publish their rankings for what they believe the best university in South Africa is, annually. And at the beginning of 2024, most of these trusted sources are seemingly in agreement that there is only one South African university that truly shines in all aspects of higher education.

By the start of 2024, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and the US News & World Report Best Global Universities Rankings (2022-2023) all stated that the University of Cape Town, located in the Mother City, had emerged as South Africa’s best university.

This means that the University of Cape Town now holds a range of “best in” titles, including being South Africa’s oldest, South Africa’s best, and also South Africa’s biggest (in terms of area) university.

South Africa’s best universities ranked in terms of size

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings places many of South Africa’s public universities among the top 800 in the world alongside the University of Cape Town.

This includes the University of South Africa (Unisa), University of Johannesburg, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Stellenbosch University, University of Witwatersrand (Wits), North-West University and University of Pretoria.

But though this ranking system takes the size of the student population of each of these universities into account, it does not consider the actual physical area of these universities’ campuses.

And if we had to rank these top universities from smallest to biggest in terms of area, the ranking would look something like:

Rank University Size
8. Unisa 274 000 square metres
7. University of Johannesburg 45 000 square meters
6. University of Kwazulu-Natal 717 865 square metres
5. Stellenbosch University 787 972 square meters
4. Wits 400 acres (or about 1.6 million square meters)
3. North-West University 11 million square meters (though only 476 599 square meters of this space is usable)
2. University of Pretoria 1 190 hectares (or about 11.7 million square meters)
1. University of Cape Town 25 million square meters (this includes the square footage of the satellite facilities in Gardens, Observatory, Philippi and the Atlantic Seaboard)

How big is the University of Cape Town?

Learning that the University of Cape Town (and its many satellite locations) encompasses a whopping 25 square kilometres can take one’s breath away, but it can be quite difficult to picture how big this area truly is.

To put it into perspective, at 25 square kilometres, the University of Cape Town is about one and a half times the size of OR Tambo International Airport (which is just over 16 square kilometres). And this means that the total area of the University of Cape Town is big enough to fit more than 1 100 Moses Mabhida Stadiums, which measure in at about 0.02 square kilometres each.

What can you study at the University of Cape Town?

The University of Cape Town, just like many other of the Universities which ranked among South Africa’s best, offers a wide range of bachelors, postgraduate, master’s and PhD courses, which are divided into six main faculties. These six main faculties are:

  • Commerce
  • Engineering & the Built Environment
  • Graduate School of Business
  • Health Sciences
  • Humanities
  • Law
  • Science

And, according the university’s most recent 2022 data, it seems like the Humanities faculty is the most popular among students, with about 7326 students of the university’s  29 958 total students at the time pursuing a course within this faculty.

How many students study at the University of Cape Town?

According to the data collected for the 2024 World University Rankings, the University of Cape Town currently has about 21,961 students.

This means that in terms of number of students, the University of Cape Town loses to many of the universities on the above-mentioned list, including Unisa, North-west University, University of Pretoria, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Johannesburg, Wits and Stellenbosch University.

But despite this smaller student body, the University of Cape Town enjoys one of the lowest staff-to-student ratios in the country, with one staff member for every 13.6 students.