What students should study to make the most money in South Africa

As part of a recent parliamentary Q&A session, the Department of Higher Education has released enrolment statistics based on numbers at South Africa’s higher education institutes.

The data shows that there has been a steady uptick in the number of enrolled students at South Africa’s universities, with the total number of enrolled students rising from just below 800,000 in 2008 to over a million in 2018.

Community Education and Training (CET) colleges and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges have also seen strong enrolment growth since their establishment in 2015 and 2010 respectively.

According to an August 2017 report by the IRR, South Africa’s absorption rate – the proportion of people of working age who are employed – depends largely on a person’s level of education.

For example, the absorption rate for people with a tertiary education is 75.6%, while people with a matric as their highest level of education, have an absorption rate of 50.3%.

You can find the complete university enrolment statistics detailed below.

Year CET Colleges TVET Colleges Universities
2008 * ** 799 490
2009 * ** 837 776
2010 * 358 393 892 936
2011 * 400 273 938 201
2012 * 657 690 953 373
2013 * 639 618 983 698
2014 * 702 383 969 154
2015 283 602 737 880 985 212
2016 273 431 705 397 975 837
2017 262 156 N/A 1 036 984 ***

* The enrolment data for CET colleges is provided from the 2015 academic year onwards as CET colleges were only established in 2015.

** Enrolment data prior to 2010 resides with the Department of Education.

*** Provisional data


What South Africans are studying

According to the latest enrollment data provided by Stats SA (2017), 2.1 million adults aged 20 years and older have attained a tertiary qualification at a South African university.

The largest number of these – 503,096 graduates – studied Education.

This is followed by Business and Economics (439,719 graduates), Health (221,121) and Engineering (219,007).

Interestingly Stats SA found that 166,224 (close to 8%) of South Africa’s university graduates are aged 20–24 – whereas the majority (close to 52%) are between 25 and 44 years old.

This is due to either the slow progress of students in the higher education system or the late entry of students in the higher education system, the report noted.


What to study

BusinessTech recently looked at the best degrees to study to make the most money in South Africa.

The data which is based on information, provided by jobs website CareerJunction, found that engineers remain some of the highest earners in the country, with environmental engineers taking home an average monthly salary of around R75,941 (R911,292 per year).

Senior managers across a variety of sectors also earn well, with senior financial managers taking home an average salary of R67,653 a month (R811,836 a year), and senior IT managers taking home an average salary of R68,281 (R819,372 a year).

Aside from engineers, other top-paying positions are commonly found in finance and ICT sectors, as well as within the medical field.

Job Degree Average monthly salary Average annual salary
Environmental engineer Four-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) with Honours in Environmental Engineering  R75 941  R911 292
Civil engineer Four-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Civil Engineering  R74 779  R897 348
Structural engineer Four-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Civil Engineering R71 377  R856 524
IT management BCom/BCom Hons in Information Management  R68 281  R819 372
Financial management BCom in Financial Management  R67 653  R811 836
Plant manager Bachelor’s degree in business or industrial management is advised  R62 188  R746 256
Chartered accountant BCom, followed by a certificate in the theory of accounting (CTA).  R60 795  R729 540
Quantity surveying Four-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) with honours in Quantity Surveying R60 227  R720 454
Electrical engineer Four-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Electrical Engineering  R59 792  R717 504
Technical and business architect BSc in IT or Computer Science is advised  R58 981  R707 772

Read: These are the most popular degrees to study – in South Africa’s prisons

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What students should study to make the most money in South Africa