I would like to follow PhD studies in my field of Computer Science. The problem is that I have to work in my native country. I have read that this university, UNISA, is known because of their online Master and Doctoral studies.

The question that I have is because I see different comments from people from United States or Europe that wanted to enter into this online degrees. Does anybody have experiences or know if that university is worldwide recognized? Or would it be only a waste of money and time? In case of the latter, which institution of quality offers online PhD degrees in CS?

Consider that this question is not focused locally, because as I mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph; there are people from all over the world that want to take those UNISA degrees.

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    I have never heard of a reputable online PhD program in computer science (or any other field). – JeffE Jun 24 '13 at 3:26
  • UNISA is a telematic (and massive) university, their masters and PhD programs (full dissertation type) are handled very similar to other masters and PhD programs. I would suggest you get a list of supervisors and then check their backgrounds, to ensure they have the necessary skills. This university is very popular in the southern hemisphere, has huge physical locations in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and has various research related on-site workshops for masters and PhD students including everything from R to SPSS. (Disclaimer: completing my M here currently). – Southern Trendkill Jun 24 '13 at 8:51
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    This university is very poorly ranked internationally and doesn't even feature on most ranking lists. Be very wary, as these "online" universities often aren't very active in research. – Moriarty Feb 13 '14 at 6:02

I offer the following evidence from credible and official sources against doing a PhD in Computer Science at UNISA:

  • Low graduation rates: 17 doctoral students graduated from the College of Science, Engineering, and Techonology (which includes the PhD in Computer Science degree) in 2010, 2011, and 2012 combined. Compare this to the 99 doctoral student enrollments five years earlier in 2005, 2006, and 2007 (combined). Graduation rates are expected to be somewhat low for distance learning students, but rates this low are a bad sign. (PDF source)
  • Inadequate supervisory capacity: The school admits that "many [research] areas in the School of Computing have reached supervisory capacity" and says that "long waiting lists started forming due to lack of supervisors," which is another worrying sign. (Same source)
  • Very, very low research output: Research output is arguably the most important indicator of a reputable PhD program. On this page, 6 professors in the School of Computing (which offers the PhD in Computer Science degree) are listed as having openings for PhD students. I looked up the Google Scholar and/or DBLP profiles of these 6 (for those that had them) and consulted personal pages of the rest to get a sense of their research productivity.
    • Averages across two years (2012 and 2013), the number of publications per person per year was 0.58 on average (range of 0-1.5)
    • Of the 7 publications I found for these professors in 2012 and 2013, 3 were in conferences or journals with the name "Africa" in the title (i.e., not international venues). So the average publication rate per person per year in non-local venues was 0.33.
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    Good answer - but I'm unclear why having "Africa" in the title indicates it's not an international venue or journal. Is this a peculiarity of Computer Science, that it considers Africa to be a single country, or is something else going on? – 410 gone Oct 15 '14 at 13:37
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    @EnergyNumbers by "not international" I meant "not global," i.e. likely to be localized to a particular region. – ff524 Oct 15 '14 at 13:58

I'm a postdoc at the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and do collaborate with some researchers at UNISA. However, this is with the Department of Decision Sciences, rather than Computer Science - I don't know the latter.

When it comes to PhD studies, generally the advisor plays a large role, too, compared to the university. I'd recommend to look at what and where the potential advisors for you publish, where their co-authors are from etc to get a vague impression how connected and well-regarded they'll be in your chosen discipline.

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I do not have a direct experience with UNISA, but this kind of universities (having massive number of students) does not have international reputation usually. They normally address the local needs for graduating professionals, but what pushes a university among top ones is interactive connection of the staff and students, which is almost impossible to be conducted in a university with 5,000 staff and 300,000 students (even in the digital world).

Thus, if you do care about your education and reputation of your PhD degree, it is more reasonable to choose a university with international standards.

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UNISA is internationally recognized. The small numbers of students passing, shows by itself that it is not a piece of cake. I did my Bsc Computer Science and believe me I had to work hard to pass and graduate. Once you are there, the work load, assignments, deadlines etc, makes you forget that you are at a distance learning institution. It felt the same as when I was at a residential school. I am currently doing my Msc Electronic Eng in the UK. It was the same UNISA credentials that took me there. So no worries, please go with UNISA and you shall not regret.

Inacio Lote GIMO

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    This answer seems at best anecdotal. The statistics mentioned were for graduating PhD's, not bachelor students. There is a big difference. And being internationally recognized is not the same as being well-known or respected, it just means that the institution is not a scam. – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 6 '15 at 13:45

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