Top 10 Universities in South Africa for International Students

Famous for its legendary president, Nelson Mandela, and for hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa is one of the more developed countries in Africa. As such, it has a very sophisticated educational system, that attracts students from the rest of the continent and beyond, who choose to study in some of South Africa’s world-ranked universities.

It is one of the most populous countries in the world, and is a multi-ethnic society, with over 11 official languages, including English. In this article, we will be looking at the best universities in South Africa for international students.

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How satisfied are international students studying in South Africa?

According to multiple reports, studies, and interviews, international students in South Africa are very satisfied with the quality of programs and the facilities available. Graduating students are the most academically prepared when compared to their other African counterparts.

However, while international students are generally very well welcomed, they are also seen as having a lot of money to spend, and they are sometimes required to pay an entire year’s worth of rent in advance. Aside from financial hurdles, students from other African countries can also face discrimination.

What are the most popular programs in South Africa for International Students?

With 23 public universities, there are courses that can meet any need for students in South Africa. However, there are a few programs that stand out and that are very popular, such as developmental studies, various programs in engineering, marketing, and management studies, and more.

How many international students study in South Africa?

With around 50.000 foreign students, South Africa is the top destination in Africa for people who wish to continue their education abroad. Most of the internationals come from other African countries who are less developed, but there is also a strong European presence, thanks to the country’s ties with Europe, as there are around 5.000.000 South Africans that are European descendants, primarily from the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. There is also a strong Australian presence as well.

What is the most prestigious university in South Africa?

As one of the oldest universities in sub-Saharan Africa, the University of Cape Town is a staple for education in Africa, as it is the continent’s most prestigious university, ranking 155th in the World Rankings. Many famous and successful South Africans and internationals are alumni of the University.

Best Universities in South Africa for International Students

1. University of Cape Town

As the best university in South Africa for international students, the University of Cape town attracts a large number of international students from 100 countries around the globe. It is a leading research institution, that is crucial for the development of the nation, as it aims to share the knowledge that can benefit the South African society.

It offers degrees in various fields, as it has six faculties: Commerce, Humanities, Law, Science, Health Sciences, and Engineering. Outside of the regular studies, UCT is dedicated to improving their students’ leadership abilities, as they invite them to participate in various projects. There are also over 100 different clubs, and 40 sports teams.

2. University of the Witwatersrand

With nearly 28,000 enrolled students, the University of Witwatersrand is one of the largest in South Africa. It is located in Johannesburg, the largest and most urbanized city in the country, with over 5.5 million inhabitants.

Commonly referred to as Wits University, it was crucial in the country’s societal development, as it was the first to not discriminate based on race. Its location in Johannesburg, one of the economic powerhouses in Africa, makes it ideal for close collaboration with other institutions in Africa and globally. It consists of five faculties. The most popular South African of all time, and former president, Nelson Mandela, studies Law at the university.

3. Stellenbosch University

Along with the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University is the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa, as both were established in 1918. It is located in the small town of Sellenbosch, 50km from Cape Town. It is one of the leading African institutions based on research output and is recognized internationally. It is ranked among the top 300 universities in the world.

As one of the top universities in South Africa for international students, there is an enormous range of programs available, in 10 faculties, which attracts a large crowd of domestic and foreign students from different backgrounds and interests.

4, University of KwaZulu Natal

The University of Kwazulu Natal was formed after a merger of two universities in 2004 and is now among the largest in the country, enrolling over 40.000 students. Its ranking among the top 500 universities in the world, and its close collaboration with universities in Europe and North America, make it an attractive option for both South African and international students.

It consists of five faculties, of which their Faculty of Humanities is the most popular, with over half of the student population in the university enrolled there.


5. University of Johannesburg

The University of Johannesburg, a top university in South Africa for international students, is one of the two largest universities in the city. It has over 40.000 enrolled students, including a large crowd of international ones, making for a diverse mix of cultures, values, and traditions. Its academic programs are internationally recognized and designed to help the students find suitable employment and become valuable citizens of the world.

The university consists of 8 faculties in different fields, including the Faculty of Economics, which houses the newly formed Johannesburg Business School.

6. University of South Africa (UNISA)

Attracting a third of the entire student population in South Africa, UNISA is the largest university in the country, and all of African, and is the only mega university in the continent. There are 400.000 students currently enrolled, including students from over 130 countries in different parts of the world. This huge number of students, is due to their distance learning offering, that enables internationals to easily “attend” the university. You can find out a lot more on their website. Neslon Mandela is the most notable alumni.

7. University of Pretoria

Based in the capital city of Pretoria, the University of Pretoria is one of the leading research universities in South Africa, accounting for almost 11% of the total research output of the country. It enrolls students of many different backgrounds in South Africa and other parts of the world. It is ranked among the top 2% of universities in the world.

As one of the best universities in South Africa for international students, the University of Pretoria is organized in 9 different faculties, as well as a business school – Gordon’s Institute of Business Science, which is one of the best schools of its kind in Africa, and the top 50 in the world. In 1949, the university was the first to launch an MBA program outside of North America, proving their dedication to progress and innovation.

8. University of the Western Cape

The University of the Western Cape, another great university in South Africa for international students, is located in the town of Bellville, close to Cape Town. It played a huge role in the development of South Africa into the equal, democratic, and prosperous nation that it is today.

Today, it is a multiracial mix of students, who study in one of the university’s five faculties, which includes the Faculty of Dentistry, one of the leading dental schools in the entire continent.

9. North-West University (NWU)

North-West University is the biggest university in north-western South Africa, with campuses in Potchefstroom – where the main offices are, Mahikeng, and Vanderbijlpark. It is one of the leaders in South Africa when it comes to distance learning, as well as one of the largest overall, with around 45.000 students.

There are 7 faculties as part of the university, with the Faculty of Education being the most popular among students. Students from over 25 countries are currently enrolled, and the university provides great support for them with its international offices. Most foreign undergraduates come from neighboring Botswana.

10. Rhodes University

We end our list of best universities in South Africa for international students with Rhodes University. Although relatively small compared to some other high-education institutions in the country, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape province of South Africa has the largest research output per staff member. It is a very international institution, as one-fifth of the students come from outside South Africa. They can choose to study in one of the six faculties as part of the university, and enjoy a large number of academics at their disposal, as this university has the highest academic-student ratio in the country.


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