Updated 2 years ago

In this article, we are providing you with an overview of the South African higher education system if you are planning to study there.

Thanks to its economic prosperity and its great cultural heritage, South Africa has been attracting many expatriates over the years. Indeed, the “Rainbow Country” has become a top destination for foreign students over the years due to the presence of several prestigious universities. Moreover, admission formalities are not so complicated. By moving there as a student, you are likely to enjoy many advantages.

Higher education system

South Africa has the best higher education system in all Africa, comprising 23 public post secondary and universities. There are three types of universities in the country, namely State universities, universities of technology known as Technikons, as well as multi-functional universities. Besides these, the country also hosts not less than 115 private higher education institutions.


South African universities provide courses ranging from the first to the third cycle in various fields, such as IT, medical, administrative, human and social sciences, law, architecture, civil engineering, natural sciences, among others.

The undergraduate program involves three to four years and is rewarded with a Bachelor's degree. After one year, you can apply for the Honor's degree, which is a more thorough study in a single field.

Graduate programs are open to holders of Bachelor's degrees and result into a Master's degree following one to three additional years of studies. Once you have completed this level, you can also register for a Doctoral degree involving four more years of studies, as well as a research project and a thesis.

As regards Technikons, these provide national diplomas as well as the Bachelor's degree of technology following three and four years of studies respectively. Students can also take up internship programs preparing them to join the labor market as soon as they complete their studies.


First of all, you have to verify the equivalence of diplomas you have acquired in your home country or abroad. In the case of registration to an undergraduate program, you are required to apply for a Certificate of Exemption at the Matriculation Board.

Matriculation Board
PO Box 3854
Pretoria 0001
Phone: 27 (0) 10 591 4401 / 27 (0) 10 591-4402
E-mail: exemption@hesa-enrol.ac.za

If you are registering for a graduate or post graduate program, you will have to contact the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA).

SAQA (Evaluation of Qualifications)
Postnet Suite 248
Private Bag X06
Waterkloof 0145
Phone: 27 (0) 12 430-5070

In general, admission depends on an entrance examination. For more information on relating conditions, you are strongly advised to refer to the chosen university or other higher education institution's website. Indeed, formalities may vary from one institution to another. However, formalities relating to admission in a Technikon are more flexible. You can simply produce a registration file along with a copy of your baccalaureate diploma.

As most subjects are taught in English in South Africa, you will have to take part in the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and score at least 550 marks. You can apply for this test either in your home country or in Johannesburg.

55 Empire Road
Bock C – Ground Floor
Phone: 27 (11) 713-0600


You are advised to start the registration process at the university of your choice at least six months in advance. Note that the academic year is divided into two semesters, the first lasting from late January to June and the second starting in July to end in November.

Registration forms are usually available on the university website along with a small guide intended for international students given that different deadlines apply. Moreover, in the case of some universities, application forms have to be sent by post mail rather than e-mail.


University fees generally vary from one institution to another. You will thus require an average of R 13,500 to R 25,000. The Department of Education also provides several scholarships to local and international students while the South African National Research Foundation offers financial assistance.

PhD graduates, for their part, are eligible to scholarships provided by the South African Council of Medical Research.

 Useful links:

Expat.com – Study in South Africa Forum 
Southafrica.info – South African Universities www.southafrica.info
Department of Basic Education – Funding studies www.education.gov.za
National Research Foundation – Bursaries and scholarships www.nrf.ac.za
Central Applications Office www.cao.ac.za

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.