South Africa's universities are facing an identity crisis after changes to the sector that have reduced the number of institutions from 36 to 23 and introduced new names for many universities.
A report warns that merged institutions could face declining enrolments because of student confusion over the changes and financial problems if they fail to popularise their new identities.
The third annual survey of media reports on high-achieving school leavers, by Johannesburg company Newsclip Media Monitoring, found that most of the 1,544 high achievers interviewed were not using the names of merged institutions, despite marketing campaigns to establish their new brands.
The survey was based on interviews in which would-be students gave details of where they intended to study. The most popular institution was Stellenbosch University (29 per cent), followed by Pretoria University (20 per cent) and Cape Town University (13 per cent), which replaced the University of the Wi****ersrand in third place.
All four have been relatively untouched by the restructuring and are keeping their names. The only other universities to keep their identities are Rhodes, Venda, Zululand and the open learning University of South Africa.
Would-be students tended to use the old names of merged institutions, according to the survey.
Lynne Dabbs, Newsclip managing director, said: "Our media report reflects the need for the newly merged tertiary institutions to undergo brand-building."
So far, 11 institutions have merged into five new universities. Technikons (polytechnics) have become universities of technology.
KwaZulu-Natal University is one of the few institutions to have escaped an identity crisis. It has become South Africa's biggest non-distance institution after a merger between Natal and Durban-Westville universities.
It ran a competition to develop a new logo, which attracted media attention and more than 200 entries. The competition was won by Zaba Ngubane, a Durban designer.
Other new institutions created in January this year are the Durban Institute of Technology, North West University and Tshwane University of Technology.
Another round of mergers in January 2005, involving 11 institutions, will create the Cape Peninsula and Eastern Cape universities of technology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and Johannesburg and Limpopo universities.