Unisa’s international students profiled

Unisa is an entity with an international footprint, with students from around the globe working towards their qualifications at this higher education institution. Although Unisa’s campuses are located across South Africa, the university welcomes students from countries the world over. The university recently conducted an analysis with the purpose of determining its international student profile: who are these students, and where do they come from? The information gathered will assist the university to better serve the needs of these students.

The majority of the university’s international students are from African countries, with the largest numbers hailing from Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The gender profile for SADC (South African Development Community) countries matches that of the general Unisa profile, which is predominantly female, with non-SADC countries being slightly skewed toward males. The age profile for SADC countries shows that, in 2020, the largest age category was 35–39, which is older than the general Unisa profile of 25–29.

LLB is the most popular qualification among international students, with BCompt Financial Accounting being the second most popular among SADC students, and a PhD in Public Health coming in second place among non-SADC students.

The analysis highlighted a particular area of concern, which is a steady decline in the number of international students – particularly those from Zimbabwe and Nigeria, who constitute some of the largest groups in this population. Table 1 shows the decline in international student numbers for the period 2018–2020.

Table 1: Unisa’s international student cohort, 2018–2020






16 352

13 529

11 667


  2 970

  2 446

  2 284


  1 612

  1 582

  1 309


  1 936

  2 073

  1 873






* By Dr Angelo Fynn, Directorate Institutional Research

Publish date: 2021/05/03