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The lowdown on higher education

18 September 2011 - 03:06 By Money & Careers
LEARNING CURVE: Students head to class at one of the University of Johannesburg's four campuses, the Auckland Park facility in western Johannesburg Picture: KEARA EDWARDS
LEARNING CURVE: Students head to class at one of the University of Johannesburg's four campuses, the Auckland Park facility in western Johannesburg Picture: KEARA EDWARDS

We asked SA’s major universities how much they charge, what their most popular courses are, what they are best at, what residences cost and how they decide whether or not to take you or not. Remember that tuition fees increase by about 10% per year, and that the fees quoted here refer to 2011

University of Johannesburg


Faculty of humanities: A Bachelor of Arts degree will cost between R19100 and R23540 depending on which courses you take;

A national diploma (NDip) will cost between R13230 and R28270;

A BTech will cost about R24050.

Faculty of engineering and the built environment:

Degree will cost between R22600 and R27900;

NDip will cost between R8860 and R25970;

BTech will cost between R16790 to R32380.

Faculty of science, including a BSc:

Non-laboratory subjects will cost between R19290 and R22150;

Laboratory subjects between R22600 and R27900;

NDip R15000 to R23280;

BTech R15190 to R22120;

MTech will cost R9460 per year.


Students need to be accepted to study at the University of Johannesburg before they can register to stay at a residence.

Residence fees are different for each campus (UJ has four campuses - Soweto, Auckland Park Kingsway, Auckland Park Bunting and Doornfontein) and depend on whether housing will be for a semester or a full year.

Double rooms cost between R6630 and R 16430 a year, while single rooms are between R7550 and R18250 a year.


UJ has nine faculties and all the departments contained therein are excellent, it says.

Notably, the department of accountancy (part of the faculty of economic and financial science) produced excellent results in the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima) exams in November 2010. A UJ student obtained the highest mark in SA in Topcima (which was the seventh-highest mark in the world) last year.

UJ is currently the biggest residential provider of black (African) chartered accountants in South Africa. A countrywide total of 411 black candidates passed the 2011 qualifying examination and UJ contributed 80 candidates to this number, amounting to 20%. One of UJ's students was placed in sixth position overall nationally in the examination.

University of the Witwatersrand


  • A BA at Wits costs between R18890 and R31700, although costs vary depending on what courses you choose and miscellaneous charges for field trips and notes, for example;
  • The first year of a BSc costs about R28960;
  • There are a number of departments within the faculty of engineering and the built environment. First-year fees range from R28280 to R37200; and
  • In the faculty of health sciences, courses range from R24400 for the first year of BNursing to R40150 for a bachelor of medicine and surgery (MBChB).

Textbooks and stationery are likely to cost in the region of R5000 to R5500 for the year. Nine months of bus fare, if you are living off campus, will set you back about R2200.


The most expensive residence - in which meals are catered for - is R25800. Private board and lodging for 10 months at R3500 a month would cost R35000.


Wits received about 30000 applications for all years of study for 2011. Firm offers are made to potential students, who then either accept and register or decline to go to another institution or do something else like take a gap year.

  • For the BA, 4021 people applied for the 2011 academic year and 779 were enrolled;
  • For the BSc, 5472 applied and 1007 were enrolled;
  • For the BSc engineering (in all nine fields) 14152 people applied and 972 were enrolled;
  • For the MBBCh, 3577 people applied and 185 were accepted.

It's subjective, but the toughest courses to get into from an academic standpoint are probably those in engineering, because students need to have a 70% pass in maths and physical science. Actuarial science requires students to have 80% for maths, English and physical science to be considered.

The most popular courses are medicine and surgery, as well as a BSc, BComm and bachelor of engineering.

Wits does not employ any kind of quota system, race-based or otherwise. The only restrictions are those determined by space constraints.

Wits accepts students based on their school marks, but there are certain degree programmes - like those in the health sciences faculty - that require students to write the National Benchmark Test and complete a biographical questionnaire.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal


Bachelor of Arts ranges between R20480 and R22910.

BSc costs about R22520.

Engineering degrees cost about R24720 a year.

Medicine costs about R26260.

Not all qualifications or subjects require students to buy books. Most disciplines prepare "readers" (notes) for students which are inexpensive and are available after registration.

In some modules students are required to buy essential books.


Accommodation costs for students vary according to the size of rooms and ranges from R14900 to R16990 a year.


University of KwaZulu-Natal's more popular courses include law, education, social work, nursing, medicine, BCom, engineering and pharmacy.

A race-based quota system is not imposed for any degree other than medicine.

International applicants are generally not considered for medicine, except for a limited number of SADC country applicants.

The most difficult courses to get into academically are engineering, science degrees, pharmacy, optometry, law and medicine.

University of Limpopo


First-year fees for the various BA degrees range from R15000 to R18 000;

For a BSc, you can expect to pay between R16429 and R18953 for the first year;

First-year medicine will cost R30882. The university does not offer engineering.


A year's accommodation in the least expensive residence will cost you R6000. The most expensive residence is R13721.

Textbooks and stationery are likely to cost between R5000 and R6000.


The university receives about 5000 applications for first-year BA degrees each year and 900 are accepted;

About 6000 applications are received for the BSc first year each year and there is space for 1400;

About 1000 people apply each year for first-year medicine and just 200 are admitted.

The most difficult degrees to get into are those that require mathematics and many students don't qualify because they drop maths for maths literacy in high school.

These degrees include medicine, BCom, accounting, BSc, nursing, pharmacy and radiography.

The most popular course is the Bachelor of Social Work because it is a degree funded by the government. Students struggling with finances opt for this simply to get a tertiary education.

What the University of Limpopo says: "The University of Limpopo strives to be a leading African university, epitomising excellence and global competitiveness, addressing the needs of rural communities through innovative ideas. In this respect, all the university departments excel."

University of Pretoria


  • The first year of a typical BA costs R21220;
  • A typical BSc, for example in chemistry, costs R29810;
  • First-year fees for a typical engineering study programme, for example, mechanical engineering, cost R29100; and
  • Fees for first-year medicine are R28040.


Rates for the residences, including some meals, range between R30600 and R34600 a year.


  • In 2010, there were 1220 applications for BA courses and 630 admissions;
  • For BSc chemistry, there were 120 applications and 50 students were admitted;
  • For mechanical engineering, there were 830 applications and 400 admissions;
  • For medicine, there were 1900 applications and 220 admissions.

The most popular courses at UP are the BAs, the BSc biological sciences, the LLB, BCom accounting sciences, and the MBChB

Courses few people know about that offer excellent postgraduate career opportunities include the BCom statistics or econometrics, the BSc agric, BSc ecology and BSc plant pathology.

At Tuks, the only limits are set by capacity - there are no quotas.

The university generally accepts students on the basis of their school marks. However, in certain fields - such as the MBChB, veterinary science or BEng - the National Benchmark Test results are considered.

University of the Free State

Much has been done in the past year at UFS to raise the academic standards of teaching and learning, and this new academic culture is having a positive effect on student progression and pass rates.

Some of the measures include:

  • The admission criteria for entry to undergraduate programmes has been raised by two points;
  • Compulsory class attendance has been implemented in a number of modules, resulting in an increase in the pass rate of up to 40% in some modules compared to 2009;
  • The exam format has been changed with an additional exam following the main examination; and
  • Students must attain 40% during the semester to qualify to write the final examination in a module.


Fees for a first-year BA degree amount to about R16970 and would vary slightly according to the modules registered.

First-year BSc will cost about R22000.

UFS will offer engineering for the first time next year, but fees are at this point not available.

First-year medicine costs about R30350. Textbooks will cost students about R4000.


Residence fees range between R14000 and R18000.


In 2010, 2402 students applied to do BA degrees, with 935 ultimately being registered. For the BSc degree, 2580 applications were received, with 765 students registered.

The university received 1007 applications for medicine, with 115 students being registered.

The degree with the most demanding academic requirements for acceptance is BMedSc.

The degrees attracting the most applications are those in the humanities, followed by BSc agriculture.

UFS excels in architecture, law, medicine, agriculture and finance, and has the best chartered accountant examination pass rate in SA, it says.

Courses that few people know about but which offer excellent post-graduate career opportunities include:

  • Honours in forensic genetics;
  • Master's degree in governance and political transformation;
  • Postgraduate diploma in transfusion science;
  • Master's degree in sport science.

UFS does not have race-based quota systems for any qualification, except the selection programmes and programmes where other guidelines are involved (such as MBChB and programmes in the allied health sciences such as psychotherapy and occupational therapy).

Other than for the health sciences, UFS uses school marks as a basis on which to accept students. We do require all prospective students to write the National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) and we use the results to place students in relevant academic support modules once they have been accepted.

University of Stellenbosch


First-year BA at Stellenbosch University costs R23985 this year;

First-year BSc costs R27153;

First-year engineering costs R32 560; First-year medicine costs R31 977.

Budget at least R3000 for books and stationery.


All men's residences cost R24010 for a single room and R19730 for a double room (excluding meals).

All women's residences cost R23450 for a single room and R19320 for a double room.


The toughest courses to get into are: actuarial sciences - which sets the highest admission requirements with a minimum mathematics score of 80%; but the MBChB programme (medicine) has the most stringent selection process because of the limited number of places available and the huge number of applications received.

Over the last few years, the majority of students have registered for programmes in the faculty of economic and management sciences (about 29% of all students at Stellenbosch University).

Most applications received were for the BAcc and the BCom (financial accounting) programmes. Programmes of the faculty of arts and social sciences, with nearly 20% of all students, are also very popular.

Popular in the faculty of health sciences are medicine (MBChB) and physiotherapy.

In the faculty of arts and social sciences, it seems to be the BA in humanities programme, BA sport science and BA international studies that draw the most students.

In the faculty of science, the programmes in biological sciences are very popular - specifically the BSc in human life sciences. In the faculty of agri sciences, it is the BSc agric in viticulture and oenology and the BSc in conservation ecology. In engineering it is the BEng (electrical and electronic). Law continues to be a popular course to follow.

Courses that offer excellent post-graduate career opportunities are also popular.

Specialist skills remain scarce in SA. These include fields such as agricultural economics, agricultural and forestry science, chemistry, analytical and industrial chemistry, clinical and biomedical engineers and technologists, all branches of engineering but especially civil engineering, geology, jewellery design and statistics.

Stellenbosch University has excellent programmes that prepare graduates for these different fields.

The university does not have a quota system, but strives to equalise the ethnic profile of the student body to that of SA's population.

Special attention is given to the selection of deserving candidates from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

However, no students will be admitted if they do not qualify on academic merit.

As from the 2013 intake, the university will look at school marks, and, where applicable, also take the National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) score into account.

Degrees that provide the opportunity to earn the most money are actuarial studies and bachelor of accounting.

Stellenbosch University has this month been acknowledged on the eighth QS World University Rankings for the first time. In the annual QS Report that announced the top 700 universities worldwide out of 2 000 institutions, Stellenbosch University is described as a "new entry ... that leapfrogged the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal ... and the third-highest ranked university in the region (Africa)".

University of Cape Town


UCT's tuition fees are all-inclusive: there are no extra levies for bandwidth or notes. UCT does not charge registration fees.

  • First-year BA, depending on which discipline you take, costs between R27000 to R35000 this year;
  • First-year BSc costs R34000;
  • First-year engineering, depending on which course is chosen, costs between R26500 and R38500; and
  • First-year medicine (MBChB) costs R42500.

You can budget for books and stationery costing about R5000, other educational equipment costing about R3000 and living expenses, local transport, pocket money and sundries costing in the region of R6000.


UCT offers three tiers of residence types, and access depends on circumstances such as, for example, what level of study the student is in or whether they need their family to be accommodated. Fees vary broadly depending on the student's requirements. See the university prospectus for more.


UCT received approximately 18000 applications for admission in 2011 - for a total of only 4000 places.

The most difficult courses to get into are those offered by the faculties of engineering and the built environment; science; health science and commerce, because of the maths and science requirements.

School results and results of the National Benchmark Test are considered for undergraduate admission. Applicants who live outside South Africa - excluding those who wish to study health sciences - are not expected to take the benchmark test.

In the case of admission to health sciences and to engineering and the built environment, the NBT results make up a specific proportion of a school-leaver's overall admission point score. See the faculty specific section in the UCT prospectus.

All applicants must write the benchmark test's academic and quantitative literacy sections.

Those wishing to study commerce, engineering, health sciences, and science must also complete the cognitive academic mathematics proficiency test.

UCT has strong research credentials across its faculties. As of May 2011, UCT had 337 researchers who were rated by the National Research Foundation (NRF): 30 of them with the top A rating and three who had received a P rating, usually given to researchers under the age of 35. The rating is used as a national indicator of excellence.

Strong research capacity allows UCT students to learn from academics who are at the forefront of their respective fields. It also creates opportunities for incentive funding from the NRF, which in turn broadens research opportunities for graduate students as well as academics.

UCT does have race-based enrolment targets, but these are not quotas, or ring-fenced places for applicants from certain race groups.

Instead, all applicants have to meet minimum criteria for admission, and it is common that enrolment targets are not met (or are exceeded) for different races in different academic programmes.

The Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings for 2011/12, released, places UCT at 156 this year, up from 161th place last year. UCT is the only university in Africa in the top 200.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University


  • First-year students enrolled for a BA can expect to pay R21940;
  • First-year BSc students will pay about R21230; and
  • First-year engineering students doing the national diploma will pay between R12930 and R19760, depending on the course.

The university does not offer medicine.


These costs vary depending on which residence the student stays in, the size of the room chosen and whether the student is an undergraduate or is completing a postgraduate degree.

Fees range from R11000 for a double room at the Veritas, Melodi and Xanadu residences for a year, to R25600 for a one-bedroom unit in the student village.


Some courses are obviously more difficult to get into than others. The admission requirements for the various courses reflect the challenges of these courses, so higher scores are required to win a place studying for a BPharm, BCom or BSc.

Some courses may be more difficult to get into because they have specialised entry criteria - like a portfolio - and others have limited space.

These include the national diplomas in radiography and biomedical technology.

The Nelson Mandela university offers access assessment - to help place students who don't meet the admissions requirements for their first course of choice.

Departments where the university excels, include accounting, mechanical engineering, architecture, pharmacy and nursing science.

The university does not have a race-based quota system in place for any diploma or degree courses.

University of the Western Cape


A typical first-year BA degree costs R17300;

A first-year BSc and BPharm costs between R18800 and R20900;

The university does not offer engineering or medicine. Community health sciences courses and dentistry are offered.

First-year dentistry costs R31220.

Textbooks and stationery cost around R5000.


The least expensive residence costs R9600 a year; the most expensive is R16080 a year.

The university receives about 16000 applications a year from new students with space available for about 5000.

The most difficult courses to get into from an academic point of view are accountancy and the sciences such as dentistry and pharmacy which require high maths and science competency levels.

The BCom and BA degrees have the most students, but there are different intake targets for the different faculties.

UWC has an excellent record in the fields of dentistry, physics, computer science, bioinformatics, molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry.

The university does not have a race-based quota system or restrictions for any students.

Rhodes University


First-year BA is about R26590.

First-year BSc will cost you about R27720.

Textbooks will cost between R800 and R1000.

Rhodes does not offer medicine or engineering.


Accommodation in residence will cost between R35700 and R37600.


This year Rhodes got 2582 applications for BA degrees, of which 959 offers were made.

For the BSc, 1048 applications were received and 438 offers were made.

The most difficult courses to get into are the science degrees because of the mathematics requirements.

The most popular courses at Rhodes are journalism, languages, commerce and law.

Rhodes University excels at ichthyology, journalism and philosophy.

There are no race-based quota systems in place at the university.

Students are accepted on the strength of school marks, unless their National Benchmark Test results are strong.

Rhodes says:"An education at Rhodes equips graduates with critical and analytical skills which put them in a good position to be employed and be productive in society."