ad horizontal

Student Life in South Africa

Types of Higher Education Institutions:

  1. University
  2. University of Technology (formerly known as Technikon)
  3. Comprehensive Institutions
  4. College (Further Education and Training Colleges, Nursing, Technical Colleges)

School Leaving and Higher Education Testimonials:

  1. Senior Certificate
  2. Matriculation Endorsement
  3. National Certificate
  4. National Higher Certificate
  5. National Diploma (Ndip)
  6. National Higher Diploma
  7. Bachelor of Technology (Btech)
  8. Bachelor’s Degree
  9. Bachelor Honours Degree
  10. Postgraduate Diploma
  11. Master of Technology (Mtech)
  12. Master’s Degree
  13. Doctor of Technology (Dtech)
  14. Doctorate

Structure Of Education System

Pre-Higher Education:

Duration of compulsory education:

  • Age of entry: 6
  • Age of exit: 15

Structure of School System

Type of school providing this education: Primary School
Length of program in years: 6
Age level from: 6 – 12

Junior Secondary
Type of school providing this education: Junior Secondary School (first year still placed under primary school)
Length of program in years: 3
Age level from: 12 to: 15
Certificate/diploma awarded: General Education and Training Certificate

Technical Secondary
Type of school providing this education: Technical Level Secondary School
Length of program in years: 2
Age level from: 15- 17
Certificate/diploma awarded: Senior Certificate 1-3 years (depending on N programmes followed)

Senior Secondary
Type of school providing this education: Senior Secondary School
Length of program in years: 3
Age level from: 15 – 18
Certificate/diploma awarded: Senior Certificate

School Education:
Primary education lasts for six years, divided into junior primary and senior primary. Until now, secondary school lasted for five years, the first year of the junior secondary phase being followed in primary school. At the end of junior secondary (three years), pupils are awarded the General Education and Training Certificate. At the end of the senior secondary phase (lasting for three years), pupils sit for the Senior Certificate Examination.

The 1996 Constitution confirms the right to basic education and that the Government must progressively make further education (i.e. the senior secondary phase preceding higher education) available and accessible through reasonable measures.  Compulsory education lasts for nine years (until age 15), followed by non-compulsory further education. In the senior cycle, students may study subjects either at Higher Grade, Standard Grade, or Lower Grade. N-courses are also offered to some technical school and college candidates. A Senior Certificate is awarded by the SA Certification Council following externally moderated examinations on completion of senior secondary school.

Technical secondary education is provided by technical centres and secondary and vocational schools. Matriculation endorsements are also offered by this Council to students who have satisfied the ministerially approved overlay on the Senior Certificate. Provision is also made for further education colleges through the Further Education and Training Act. Technical high schools may, inter alia, offer courses leading to Senior Certificates with matriculation endorsements, which statutorily constitute the minimum general admission requirement for access to universities. Universities of Technology (former Technikons) require Senior Certificates but not necessarily with matriculation endorsements.

Higher Education:
The higher education system consists of Public Universities, Universities of Technology and a College sector. The Higher Education Act (December 1997) provides for the appointment of a Registrar of Private Higher Education Institutions and a number of private institutions have registered or are in the process of registering in terms of these provisions. The South African universities offer Bachelor, Bachelor Honours, Master and Doctorate Degrees, as well as Undergraduate and Postgraduate Diplomas. Course work is structured in modules, with students registering in a unit/credit system.

Universities and Universities of Technology, as autonomous institutions, are  subsidized by the Department of Education, and provide training at the post senior certificate level. University of Technology courses lead to National Diplomas and Certificates and, as from 1995, to Degrees with a minimum duration of four years. The Certification Council for Technikons (SERTEC) is responsible for conferring Universities of Technology Diplomas. The Higher Education Act stipulates that higher education at Universities, Universities of Technology and Colleges comes directly under the responsibility of the national government, whilst further education colleges report to the nine provincial governments. There are 23 public higher education institutions in South Africa.

Laws/declaration governing higher education:
Decree: Higher Education Act Year: 1997
Academic year:
Classes from: Jan to: Dec
Languages of instruction: Afrikaans, English

Stages of Studies

Non-university level post-secondary studies (technical/vocational type):

Non-University Level:
Higher technical/vocational studies are provided by Technical Colleges and Universities of Technology. Apprenticeship training for technicians is offered by Technical Colleges. Apprentices study for the National (Technical) Certificate (N training). N-3 courses can also be taken as credits for the Senior Certificate. The programme consists of three parts (N-1, N-2, N-3), each lasting for four months, six months or a year, depending on the course concerned.

The N-training is a pre-senior Certificate level and the N-3 credits are considered for the Senior Certificate (with pass in English and Afrikaans) for entry to Universities of Technology and National Certificate studies, but not for university studies. Most tertiary-level vocational programmes lead to a three-year National Diploma as basic qualification. Universities of Technology also provide vocationally oriented education and training in a variety of disciplines leading to, amongst other Diplomas, first and advanced Degrees.

Diplomas at technical-vocational level lead to BTech, MTech and Dtech Degrees. There are other types of specialist colleges, such as Nursing Colleges and Agricultural Colleges, which do not offer Degree studies unless offered in cooperation with Universities or Universities of Technology. In such cases, the Degree-awarding institution/authority’s name will appear on the Certificate.

University Level Studies

University Level First Stage: Stage I
The Bachelor Degree is awarded both by Universities and Universities of Technology. Universities award the Bachelor Degree after three to six years of study: Humanities, Commerce, Science – 3 years; Agriculture, Law, Engineering, Pharmacy and Education, four years; Veterinary Medicine and Architecture, five years; Dentistry, five-and-a-half years; Medecine and Theology, six years. Students in Humanities, Commerce and Science wishing to proceed to a Master Degree are required to take a Bachelor Honours Degree, which is awarded after a further year’s study. Universities of Technology award the Bachelor Degree of Technology (BTech), which is a four-year Degree which includes one year of experiencial training. Universities also confer a Professional Bachelor Degree after four years.

University Level Second Stage: Stage II
The Master Degree is awarded by both Universities and Universities of Technology. This Degree requires a minimum of one to two years’ research after the award of an Honours Degree in the case of universities, and a Bachelor Degree in the case of Universities of Technology. The Master Degree in Technology (MTech) may be obtained at least one year after the BTech. This is an advanced qualification comprising taught subjects and research, or only research. The thesis must relate to an industry specific problem. Some university Master Degrees, e.g. the Master Degree in Business Leadership (MBusAdministration), are partly taught and partly research Degrees, where the thesis must relate to an industry or subject specific problem.

University Level Third Stage: Stage III
Doctorates and research Degrees are also awarded by both Universities and Universities of Technology. They are conferred to holders of Master Degrees after a minimum of two years’ study. A Doctor in Technology (DTech) is awarded after successful completion of a thesis at Universities of Technology. This degree is  research-based and studies last for at least two years. It comprises an advanced research project.

Teaching Education

Training of re-primary and primary/basic school teachers
Teacher Colleges have been transferred to the National Department of Education and certain Universities run three-or four-year Diploma courses qualifying  holders to teach in primary schools. This also applies to some universities and universities of technology. The general admission requirement for Diploma studies at any of these colleges is a Senior Certificate with pass marks in one of the two languages of instruction (i.e. English and Afrikaans).

Training of secondary school teachers
Degree-level courses for secondary school teachers are offered by all universities and universities of technology. A Senior Certificate with a matriculation endorsement or a Certificate of complete or conditional exemption is required for university study, whilst universities of technology have different requirements (usually Senior Certificates and further requirements as stipulated in their joint statute).

Training of higher education teachers
Forty per cent of academic staff obtained their highest qualification at the University in which they are employed, 30 per cent at another South African University and 30 per cent at a foreign University.

Non-Traditional Studies

Distance Education
Distance teaching, which is mainly by correspondence, provides courses for about 35 per cent of enrolled students. The University of South Africa (UNISA) offers correspondence courses, either in English or in Afrikaans, for Bachelor Degree and Postgraduate qualifications, provided such Bachelor Degrees include an in-service training component. Course work is structured in modules. A maximum of ten years is allowed to obtain a Bachelor Degree, an additional year for Bachelor Honours Degree, three years for Postgraduate qualifications, two further years for a Master Degree and two years for a Doctorate. The Degrees are considered to be equivalent in standard to those awarded by other Universities.

National Bodies

Department of Education
Head: Naledi Pandor, Minister
Administrative officer: Duncan Hindle, Acting Director-general
International relations: Ghaleeb Jeppie, Director
Private Bag X895
Pretoria 0001
South Africa
Tel: +27(21) 4657350
Fax: +27(21) 4614788
EMail: [email protected]:

Higher Education South Africa (HESA)
Head: Piyushi Kotecha, Chief Executive Officer (Acting)
Administrative officer: Tessa Yeowart, Executive Manager
PO Box 27392
Pretoria 0132
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 4812842
Fax: +27(12) 4812843/ 4812850
EMail: [email protected]

Council on Higher Education (CHE)
Head: Saki Macozoma, Chairperson
Administrative officer: Mala Singh, Interim Chief Executive Officer
PO Box 13354
The Tramshed, Gauteng 0126
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 3929119
Fax: +27(12) 3929110
EMail: [email protected]

International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA)
Head: Roshen Kishun, President
International relations: Caleb Maqubela, International Liaison Officer
PO Box 65099
Reservoir Hills
Durban 4090
South Africa
Tel: +27(31) 2603077
Fax: +27(31) 2602967
EMail: [email protected]

Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC)
Head: H. Africa, Chairperson
Administrative officer: Mala Singh, Executive Director
PO Box 13354, The Tramshed
Pretoria 0126
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 3929100
Fax: +27(12) 3929110
EMail: [email protected]

Council For Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (UMALUSI)
Administrative officer: P. Lolwana, Chief Executive Officer
Post Net Suite 102
Private Bag X 1
Pretoria 0121
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 3491510
Fax: +27(12) 3491511
EMail: [email protected]

Admission to Higher Education

Admission to non university higher education studies

  • Name of secondary school credential required: Senior Certificate
  • For entry to: Universities of technology, technical colleges, and other colleges.
  • Alternatives to credentials:
  • Senior Certificate with N-courses obtained at technical colleges or technical high schools.
  • Admission to university-level studies
  • Name of secondary school credential required: Senior Certificate
  • Minimum score/requirement: Pass marks in two Higher Grade languages, two additional Higher Grade subjects, at least a further Standard Grade subject and a minimum aggregate of 45 % for six subjects.

Entry To Universities

Alternatives to credentials: Certificate of exemption from the matriculation endorsement required as issued by the  Matriculation Board on behalf of HESA or a conditional admission certificate issued by a university of technology
Entrance exams required: Matriculation endorsements are required for admission to first degree studies at university level and senior certificates for first degree studies at university of technology or college level.

Foreign Student’s Admission

Admission RequirementsProspective students coming from a non-South African schooling system must, for benchmark purposes, hold qualifications that must be at least equivalent to the local system. For university studies, candidates apply to the university which will forward the application to the Matriculation Board which issues a certificate of exemption in terms of other specified provisions. Conditions must be satisfied on completion of  degrees in the case of foreign conditional exemption certificates.

Entry Regulations:

  • Students must hold a valid passport, a duly completed B1-159 application form that is available from the Department of Home Affairs, a standard letter of provisional acceptance to a South African institution, a letter of motivation and proof that the student is in a situation to pay the tuition fees and has adequate means of support.
  • Language requirements: Students must be proficient in English or Afrikaans.
  • Application procedures:
  • Apply to individual institution for entry to: Institutions of higher education

Recognition of studies & qualifications:
Studies pursued in home country (System of recognition/accreditation): A Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) functions within the Council on Higher Education (Tel.: +27(12) 392-9132, Fax: +27(12) 392-9120, Email: [email protected], Website: It promotes quality assurance in higher education, audits quality assurance mechanisms and accredits higher education courses.

Studies pursued in foreign countries (bodies dealing with recognition of foreign credentials):

Higher Education South Africa (HESA)
Head: Piyushi Kotecha, CEO (Acting)
Administrative officer: Cobus Lötter, Director, Matriculation Board
PO Box 27392
Pretoria 0132
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 4812842
Fax: +27(12) 4812843/ 4812850
EMail: [email protected]

Deals with credential recognition for entry to: University

Student Life

Main student services at national level

  • National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)
    Private bag XI
    Plumstead 7801
    South Africa
    Tel: +27(21) 7978161
    Fax: +27(21) 7978131
    EMail: [email protected]

Category of services provided: Social and welfare services

National Student Associations and Unions


  • South African Students’ Representative Council (SAU-SRC)
    Private Bag
    Students’ Union. University of Cape Town
    Rondebosch 7700
    South Africa
    Tel: +27(21) 6509111
    Fax: +27(21) 6502138

Student Expenses and Financial Aid

Student Costs
Home students tuition fees: Minimum: 4000 (Rand)
Maximum: 25000 (Rand)
Publications on student services and financial aid:
Title: Guide to Distance Education in South Africa
Publisher: HSRC Publishers

International Co-operation & Exchanges

Principal national bodies responsible for dealing with international cooperation and exchanges in higher education

Higher Education South Africa (HESA)
Head: Piyushi Kotecha, Chief Executive (Acting)
Administrative officer: Tessa Yeowart, Executive Manager
PO Box  27392
Sunnyside, Pretoria 0132
South Africa
Tel: +27(12) 4812842
Fax: +27(12) 4812843/ 4812850
EMail: [email protected]

International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA)
Head: Roshen Kishun, Director
PO Box 65099
Reservoire Hills
Durban 4090
South Africa
Tel: +27(31) 2603077
Fax: +27(12) 2602967
EMail: [email protected]

Grading System

Full DescriptionMarking is alphabetical or expressed as a percentage. The usual pass mark in all higher grade subjects is 40% (with 2 exceptions). The pass mark in all standard grade subjects is 33%.

Highest on scale: A 80-100%
Pass/fail level: E 40-49%
Lowest on scale: F 33-39%
Main grading system used by higher education institutions
Full Description: Classification at some universities: 1st class (75-100%); 2nd class division 1 (70-74); 2nd class division 2 (60-69); 3rd class (50-59); fail (below 50). Other universities only distinguish: Distinction (75-100%); Pass (50-74%).
Highest on scale: 1st class
Pass/fail level: 3rd class
Lowest on scale: F

Related Links

ad horizontal