What is the University Town Concept?

Univen commenced its UTC journey in October 2014 in response to the task set by the Minister for Higher Education and Training to make Thohoyandou a University Town. It was left for Univen to determine the meaning of the UTC and what this entailed.

All over the world, universities or colleges are found in large and small towns. The fact that there is a university in a town does not qualify it to be referred to conceptually as a ‘university town’. Instead it is a university in a town by the fact that its population, the jobs created or its economic impact and often dominate the town in which it is located. In most Universities the benefits of teaching, research and especially its corporate social responsibilities through community extension services are offered to the town and region on the basis of ‘charitable’, ‘ad hoc’, and ‘volunteer’ basis on part of its staff members. In other words there is no university compulsion to engage in the needs of society, except at one’s own pace and pleasure.

The University Town Concept is basically about how a tertiary institution becomes a ‘University Town’ or ‘College Town’ through purposely focusing its research, innovation and enterprise that aims to impact on its town, region, nation and globally. This is a technical process that many universities have successfully rolled out in a number of countries and it is these processes that Univen are playing close attention to. A successful university towns are those where a university has a positive economic, technological and social synergies resulting in mutual benefits with its immediate, regional and national environment and sometimes internationally as already noted above.

UTC stakeholders

Univen’s UTC has managed to keep all its original stakeholders i.e. the University of Venda, Thulamela Local Municipality, Vhembe District Municipality, Madzivhandila College of Agriculture and VBS Mutual Bank. Other stakeholders that have `joined’ the UTC are a local Traditional Leader, i.e. Chief Tshivhase, Limpopo’s Premier’s Office in the middle of 2016 and the Provincial Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (CoGHSTA) in the middle of 2017. UTC stakeholders have been kept informed via workshop and meetings. There is a draft comprehensive plan to involve all stakeholders, from the University of Venda, Government entities communities, and businesses in a series of workshop in 2018.


When a university embarks on a new / innovative undertaking, the norm is to benchmark with institutions with a record of best practice, from which one can learn how best to approach in this case the `university town concept’ as well as the pitfalls to avoid. Benchmarking normally comes early in the business of introducing a new idea in an institution. What Univen has managed to do was to contact the reputed best practioner university in the USA i.e. Clemson University and Clemson Town- and Stellenbosch University and Stellenbosch Municipality in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Where UTC is now

At this point in time we are in the process of preparing a 5 year plan. The details of this plan are still being articulated. However, what can be revealed is that if the finances are availed in a consistent manner, 2018 will be the year in which we roll out the UTC on campus, with our stakeholders and with communities and businesses.

Photos of University Town Concept Activities

Presentation at first meeting                                        Some of Univen’s Stakeholders

  Part of the participants                                    Group Photo at School Building Entrance

  Meeting the Stellenbosch University                          Meeting Stellenbosch Municipality

 Grey water reticulation unit                                                    Innovation centre

Prepared by : Prof G. Anyumba
Department of Urban & Regional Planning
School of Environmental Sciences
27 November 2017

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