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South African Higher Education System

The higher education sector of South Africa had undergone a transformation which resulted in three types of public higher education institutions- Technikons or Universities of Technology, Comprehensive universities and Traditional Universities. South Africa has 24 state-funded higher education institutions: 11 universities, 6 universities of technology, and 6 comprehensive Universities. Higher education is also provided at many of the private institutions in South Africa, which are registered with the Department of Education to award specific degrees and diplomas.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is in charge for higher education and vocational training, along with Adult Basic Education and Training Centres (ABET) in South Africa. The 9 provinces in South Africa also hold their own educational departments, which carry out their policies and guidelines of the national as well as local departments. 

South Africa is a home to some of the best Universities in Africa. Five of the 6 highest ranked Universities in Africa are from South Africa. University of Cape Town and University of Witwatersrand and University of Stellenbosch are the top three Universities in South Africa.  According to the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, 2013-14, University of Cape Town holds 126th position in World Ranking, University of Witwatersrand ranks between 226 and 250 and University of Stellenbosch ranks between 301 and 350. 

Higher Education Institutions: Snapshot

There are three types of Public Universities in South Africa:
  1. Traditional Universities: These Universities are academic in nature and offer Bachelor degree programmes.
  2. Technikons or Universities of Technology: These are vocational in nature and offer diplomas, higher education certificates and degree programmes. 
  3. Comprehensive Universities: These Universities offer academic as well as vocational courses of study, and offer Bachelors degree and technology qualifications. 

Private Higher Education

The Higher Education Act of 1997 includes provisions that permit private higher education institutions in South Africa to provide degree programmes. These institutions must be registered with the South African Council on Higher Education (CHE) and accredited by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The private higher education sector developed quickly after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. By 2000 there were four major private higher education institutions in South Africa-
  • Foreign institutions
  • Colleges providing tuition-based distance learning courses/programmes
  • Private vocational and technical institutions
  • Lifelong learning centers established by private companies to train their workforce
Private universities emphasized on vocational courses and disciplines, and provide both degree and non-degree programmes. 

Fields of Study: Technology, Management, Commerce, Computing, and Media

Higher Education Qualifications: A Quick Look

Following are the higher education qualifications in South Africa-

Bachelor’s Degree: A Bachelor degree programme in South Africa generally lasts for 3 years and BA, Bcom, BSc are usually awarded. Certain professional areas, like medicine, engineering, law, fine arts, etc. lasts for 4-6 years. 

Honors Degree: It requires one year of study following the regular 3-year bachelor’s degree. 

Master’s Degree: A Master degree programme lasts for 1-2 years and requires a completion of a thesis. 

Doctorate Degree: A Doctorate degree generally requires at least two years of study following the master’s degree programme and a completion of a dissertation.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements vary depending on the Institution and the Programme. To get into a Bachelor degree program, a senior certificate is required, for a Master degree programme, an undergraduate degree in a related course is needed and for a doctorate degree, a Master degree is required. Also, a strong academic record is needed for admissions.
 
Courses in South Africa are generally taught in English, although it has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans and Zulu, so it's better to check before applying.

Entrance Exams

In South Africa, Universities accept pupils on the basis of standardized test scores-

  • National Senior Certificate Scores: The NSC is a school-leaving certificate in South Africa that is required for admission to South African Higher education Institutions. It is also known as “matriculation” (Matric) Certificate.  
  • National Benchmark Tests (NBT): Students who wish to further their studies in Higher Education Institutions in South Africa have to sit for a National Benchmark Test. The NBT is an assessment for entry-level students to South African Institutions. 

Tuition Fees and Scholarships

Tuition fees in South Africa vary depending upon the programme and the University. Many South African Institutions provide their own scholarships and bursaries based on the academic merit and financial need. 

Student Visa for South Africa

International students wanting to study in South African Institutions must apply for student visa. You can apply for student visa at our nearest South African Embassy or Consulate

Grading System


  1. liScale
  2. liGrade Description
  3. liDivision
  4. liUS Grade
  • 75.00-100.00
  • First Class
  • A
  • 70.00-74.99
  • Second Class
  • Division One
  • B
  • 60.00-69.99
  • Second Class
  • Division Two
  • B
  • 50.00-59.99
  • Third Class
  • C
  • 0.00-49.99
  • Fail
  • F
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