There are two schools of thought in learning – either you learn from the best, or you learn best by doing. South Africa is a place that thrives on the latter. As an emerging economy with hubs of development, South Africa is the place where one can learn from top institutions and apply these where it is needed the most.

This applies to public health as well. South Africa is a mix of both urban and rural communities with varying health needs. This makes the country a place not only for theory but more for practice. Jumpstart your learning by going through some of the best public health universities in South Africa below:

Top Universities for Public Health in South Africa

1. University of Witwatersrand

The University of Witwatersrand, considered as one of the best public health universities in South Africa, offers a Master’s degree in Public Health that is African-focused. However, the degree’s six specializations show that African education is as complex and applicable as any emerging economy.

The Health Systems and Policy track is best for those pursuing roles in public and non-governmental sectors. The course aids them in managing regulatory and health system challenges in an emerging economy such as Africa. The Social and Behavior Change Communication track focuses on how to impart health and lifestyle changes effectively to the African population. The Maternal and Child Health track allows students to provide support for patients undergoing childbirth and child-rearing in the first years of life, critical to overall human growth and development. The Rural Health track immerses health professionals in the realities of health conditions in less developed communities enables them to effectively diagnose and improve them. The Occupational Hygiene track is the best fit for those entering public or private occupational health services. Lastly, the Health Economics track aims to develop economists with the technical and practical know-how to create sustainable health policies in the African region.

The program can be availed of on a part-time or full-time basis. Students will go through a set of predetermined courses depending on their specializations, then complete a Research Methods development module.

2. University of the Western Cape

The University of the Western Cape established the School Of Public Health to support the university’s thrust for more comprehensive health education in Africa, while also setting an example for other emerging economies worldwide. It aims to produce graduates knowledgeable in both theory and practice of public health. Its roster of courses ranges from Post-graduate diploma programs to Master’s and Doctoral courses. These are all offered on a part-time or full-time basis and can be taken online for added convenience.

The post-graduate diploma course in Public Health serves as a 1-2 year introductory course on public health, teaching students how to do needs assessment up to implementation and evaluation of public health programs. Key outputs include an ePortfolio submission and other module-specific requirements.

The Master of Public Health enables students to diagnose and prioritize health needs in a population, conduct research, and design a tailor-fit solution. This is being done through two modes – a combination of coursework and thesis or full thesis research. While the theory is important, the thesis takes up the majority of the course load. Modules range from Management Strategies for the Public Health Services, Qualitative Research Methods, to Micronutrient Malnutrition.

Lastly, the Ph.D. in Public Health is only open to limited slots and is entirely thesis-driven. The course has no set classes, but students may opt to take additional courses as necessary. This is open to students with work and research experience, as well as the fit between the research subject and the university’s area of expertise.

3. University of Pretoria

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria was established to further the university’s foothold as a center of research in Africa. This excellent public health school is well-renowned for its research quality, relevance, and technical expertise while making an impact locally and abroad. The university takes pride in its 6,000-strong student body, with more than 40 disciplines’ worth of medical and dental fellowship training.

Students can leverage the university’s strength in Public Health by choosing from the university’s Postgraduate, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees in this field. All are two-year, full-time courses, open only to academically excellent students with relevant undergraduate degrees and work experience. The selection committee carefully selects its students based on grades, representation, public service, and track record in career and extracurriculars.

4. University of Venda

The University of Venda is a rural-based institution, which sets it apart from its more established counterparts. The strength of this university is staying close to its roots and providing valuable insights for its students through community-based research. As public health is a key priority in rural communities, the university offers Postgraduate Diploma, Master,’s and Doctoral degrees in Public Health. Since the University of Venda is known as one of the best public health universities in South Africa, its courses were made to form leaders in health promotion and disease prevention most especially in developing communities.

Postgraduate course takers will take on introductory classes on public health such as health communication, health policy, and health system research methods. While introductory classes are still part of the Master’s degree study, students will delve further into the technicalities of public health through topics such as communicable disease control and epidemiology. A mini-dissertation will be part of the final assessment. Meanwhile, candidates for Doctoral degrees do not attend classes but must research and present a concept paper on a public health topic of their choice.

5. University of Kwazulu-Natal

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is a state university that takes pride in its research intensity. Its Public Health program is open as Postgraduate diploma and Master’s degree courses, aiming to produce graduates who will become change agents in their respective communities. These courses can be part-time endeavors, stretching up to two years for Postgraduate diploma takers, and up to five years for Master’s students.

The course takes on a blended learning approach, with students doing a 50-50 split between lecture classes and research. Postgraduate diploma courses are generalist in nature to provide supplementary information to middle managers in fields related to public health. Master’s courses take an in-depth approach to the diagnosis of population health, up to communicating recommendations to specialists and nonspecialists alike.


Hopefully, this article on the best universities for public health in South Africa was helpful and informative. Make sure to also check out the Available Programs for International Students to know more! 

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hyun is the founder at Global Scholarships. He has received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College as well as $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for his undergraduate degree and has been offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. Read more about his scholarship journey here.

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