University of Witwatersrand

Johannesburg, South Africa
Site: Founded: 1922 year Type of University:Public StudyQA ranking: 1143 pts. No. Students: 33711 No. Staff: 6585 Languages: English Phone: +27117171000 Fax: +27117171065
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About Wits University

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, is a multi-campus South African public research university situated in the northern areas of central Johannesburg. It is more commonly known as Wits University. The university has its roots in the mining industry, as do Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand in general. Founded in 1896 as the South African School of Mines in Kimberley, it is the third oldest South African university in continuous operation, after the University of Cape Town (founded in 1829), and Stellenbosch University (founded in 1866).

In 1959, the Extension of University Education Act forced restricted registrations of black students for most of the apartheid era; despite this, several notable black leaders graduated from the university. It was desegregated once again prior to the abolition of apartheid in 1990. Several of apartheid's most provocative critics, of either European or African descent, were one-time students and graduates of the university.

The university has an enrolment of 33,711 students as of 2015, of which approximately 18 percent live on campus in the university's 22 residences. 65 percent of the university's total enrolment is for undergraduate study, with the remaining 35 percent being postgraduate.

History of Wits University

Birth of a University 

The origins of Wits lie in the South African School of Mines, which was established in Kimberley in 1896 and transferred to Johannesburg as the Transvaal Technical Institute in 1904, becoming the Transvaal University College in 1906 and renamed the South African School of Mines and Technology four years later. Other departments were added as Johannesburg grew and in 1920 the name was changed to the University College, Johannesburg. Full university status was granted in 1922, incorporating the College as the University of the Witwatersrand, with effect March 1st. Seven months later the inauguration of the University was duly celebrated. Prince Arthur of Connaught, Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, became the University's first Chancellor, and Professor Jan H Hofmeyr its first Principal. Building began at Milner Park on a site donated to the University by the Johannesburg municipality.

In the Beginning 

In 1923, the University gradually vacated its premises in Eloff Street to move to the first completed teaching buildings at Milner Park (the Botany and Zoology block - housing the departments of Geology, Botany, Zoology and Applied Mathematics). The University had, at that stage, 6 faculties (Arts, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Law and Commerce), 37 departments, 73 members of academic staff and little more than 1000 students. In 1925 the Prince of Wales officially opened the Central Block. 
During the period between the two world wars severe financial restrictions were imposed upon the University. Nevertheless, student numbers were quite impressive - in 1939 2 544 students enrolled; that grew to 3100 in 1945. The sudden increase in student enrolment after the Second World War led to accommodation problems, which were temporarily resolved by the construction of wood and galvanised-iron hutments in the centre of the campus. These huts remained in use until 1972.


The period between 1947 and the 1980s was marked by considerable growth - student numbers increased rapidly to 6 275 in 1963, 10 600 in 1975 and 16 400 by 1985. In 1951 the University awarded its 10 433rd qualification, in May 1981 its 50 000th and by 1988 its 73 411th. 

The acquisition of additional property in adjacent areas became imperative. The medical library and the administrative offices of the Faculty of Medicine moved to a new building in Esselen Street, Hillbrow during 1964. The Graduate School of Business was established in Parktown in 1968. In 1969 the Ernest Oppenheimer Residence was formally opened in Parktown. Savernake , the official residence of the Vice-Chancellor, also located in Parktown, was made available to the University during 1969. In the same year the clinical departments in the new Medical School were opened. However, the Medical School moved premises again and is now situated in York Street, Parktown - the complex was opened on 30 August 1982.

Expansion into Braamfontein also took place. In 1976 Lawson's Corner, renamed University Corner , was acquired. Senate House, the University's main administrative building, was occupied in 1977. The Wedge , a building formerly owned by the National Institute of Metallurgy, was taken over by the University in 1979. The Milner Park showgrounds were acquired in 1984 from the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society and renamed West Campus. Today, the campuses are some 101 hectare in extent. In 1989, the Chamber of Mines Building for the Faculty of Engineering on the West Campus was opened, and the brick-paved AMIC deck was built across the M1 motorway to link the East and West campuses. 
The University's interests have not been confined to development and expansion at Milner Park and adjacent areas. In the 1960s the University acquired from the Stegmann family the farm Sterkfontein , with its world-famous limestone caves, rich in archaeological material. In 1968 the neighbouring farm, Swartkrans, also a source of archaeological material, was purchased. In the same year, the University acquired excavation rights in caves of archaeological and palaeontological importance at Makapansgat in the area now known as the Limpopo Province. 

The Liberal Tradition 

From the outset, Wits was founded as an open university with a policy of non-discrimination - on racial or any other grounds. This commitment faced its ultimate test when the apartheid-government passed the Extension of the University Education Act in 1959, thereby enforcing university apartheid. The Wits community protested strongly and continued to maintain a firm, consistent and vigorous stand against apartheid, not only in education, but in all its manifestations. These protests were sustained as more and more civil liberties were withdrawn and peaceful opposition to apartheid was suppressed. The consequences for the University were severe - banning, deportation and detention of staff and students, as well as invasions of the campus by riot police to disrupt peaceful protest meetings. 

With the dismantling of apartheid and the election of a democratic government, the role of Wits as a resource became increasingly important: staff members and researchers are approached on a daily basis by the media, commerce and industry to give their expert knowledge and opinion on a wide variety of topics.

Academic Excellence 

Over the years the University of the Witwatersrand became internationally recognised for academic excellence and extensive research activities. During the Second World War members of the University staff took an active part in the original development and construction of radar. Wits was the first South African university to have a nuclear accelerator, to have a computer, to study building materials and early Afrik ns, to produce a systematic climatological atlas of Southern Africa and to achieve a successful graft of plastic cornea.

The country's first dental hospital and school was established by the University. It was also a local first in the field of physio- and occupational therapy and the first South African institution to open a clinic for the treatment of speech defects. The first blood transfusion service in the Union of South Africa was started by Wits medical students; the Medical School undertook the first clinical survey of childbirth in African tribal conditions. The University's scholars have also greatly advanced the theory of human origin and evolution. And there are many more such examples.

Continued Growth

Today, with five faculties (Commerce, Law & Management; Engineering & the Built Environment; Health Sciences; Humanities; Science) and 33 schools, Wits offers approximately 3000 courses to 32 500 students. Over a third of the student body comprises postgraduate students. Library facilities consists of two central libraries and 12 branch libraries with students having access to over 1,5 million books. Approximately 5000 students are accommodated in a number of residences and student villages. There are 42 sport clubs and many cultural opportunities in the form of over 60 student societies, the Wits Theatre, art galleries, concert hall and 14 museums.


  • Institutional Accreditation or Recognition - Department of Higher Education and Training, South Africa
  • Year of first Accreditation - 1922
  • Other Specialized or Programmatic Accreditations - Council on Higher Education (CHE); Association of MBAs (AMBA); Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA); South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP); Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)


Centre for World University Rankings (2016)

  • 176 globally
  • 79 globally on Quality of Education
  • Ranked number 1 in the country in the 100 - 200 band

QS World University Rankings (2015/2016)

  • 331 in the world

Times Higher Education (2015/2016)

  • 201 - 250 band

Student life @Wits University

Arts and culture

The Wits campus has a wealth of sightseeing and educational opportunities which collectively depict the richness of our history, academic endeavours, diversity of disciplines and social interaction.

There is always something happening at Wits and a vibrant social and cultural life is the norm.

Science enthusiasts can pay a visit to the Planetarium, the Origins Centre, the Bleloch Geological Museum, the Life Sciences Museum and Biodiversity Centre or the James Kitching Gallery in the Palaeosciences Centre.
The Fossil Vault and undergraduate chamber hold some of the world’s priceless faunal, floral and hominid palaeo treasures.

Students studying in the health sciences may find the captivating Adler Museum of Medicine compelling, or may fancy a visit to the Brebner Museum, the Hunterian Museum of Anatomy or the Museum of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

New, experimental work is always explored at the Wits Theatre complex, side by side with the best professional talent on the continent. 
The Fassler Gallery, the Anthropology Museum and the Wits Art Museum will also enthrall audiences.

Eateries on campus

Whether you crave a quick espresso or just a sandwich, Wits University has a dining destination for everyone.

  • Donald Gordon Café - Olives & Plates 
  • Junction - ePitstop
  • Med School Canteen - Olives & Plates
  • Origins Centre- Café Fino
  • PDH Coffee Shop - Zesti Lemonz
  • Postgraduate Club 
  • Senate House - Theo's
  • Wits Art Museum Café - Olives & Plates
  • Wits Business School Cafeteria - Olives & Plates
  • Wits Education Campus - Theo's
  • Wits Education Campus - Tuckshop
  • Wits Club –Olives & Plates
  • West Campus Commerce - Sizzlers
  • West Campus Roundhouse - Zesti Lemonz
  • West Campus Tower of Light - King Pie

Services of Wits University

  • Accommodation - At Wits our residences are living and learning centres. You are at Wits to gain an education, so your academic work must be your highest priority, but you must also find a bit of time to relax and to socialise, and – very importantly – to exercise.  Support is provided in each residence to students that are experiencing difficulties (academic or personal).
  • Banks - Branches and ATMs of all major banks are located in The Matrix.
  • Bookstores - The University has an officially appointed stockist, Van Schaik Bookstore, which undertakes to stock all the books you need for your courses.  Bookshops are located in The Matrix on the East Campus, in the DJ du Plessis Building on the West Campus and at the Medical School.
  • Computer services - PCs and printers are available to students for use in Computer Labs situated across campuses. Student assistants are available at each of the labs to assist from 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
  • Commissioners of Oath - This service is available on the Concourse, Ground Floor, Senate House daily 
    from 08:30 to 16:00.
  • Lockers - Any registered student may hire a locker from the SRC or the Health Sciences Students’ Council. 
  • Lost property - Please hand any found items immediately to the Lost Property Office, Campus Control Division, Room 24 Central Block, East Campus.
  • Postal services - The Post Office in Senate House offers a full rangeof postal services, including private post boxes.
  • Research facilities - The Humanities Graduate Centre is a one stop information service for humanities graduate students from application through to graduation.
  • Postgraduate Hub (The Postgraduate Affairs Office) - Postgrads from all faculties are encouraged to attend the symposium, research support workshops and writing retreats.
  • The Wits Law Clinic is a respected law office that has been involved in many precedent-setting cases in our courts. At present, we offer the following units of specialisation: family, labour, delict, urban evictions,refugee and a general unit which concentrates on consumer and contract law.
  • Wits International Office - The Wits International Office (WIO) offers computer facilities, advice on matters concerning visas and student permits.
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