The degrees that pay the highest salaries in South Africa

 ·25 Feb 2019

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey published by Stats SA for the fourth quarter of 2018 once again highlighted the importance of gaining a qualification in South Africa in order to secure a job.

While the country’s unemployment rates sit at their highest levels in decades, there is a clear distinction between the unemployment rates across various education levels.

The latest report shows that, of the 6.1 million unemployed persons in Q4 2018, approximately 57.1% had an education level below matric, followed by those with a matric at 34.2%.

By comparison, only 1.7% of the unemployed persons were graduates, while 6.3% had some form of tertiary qualification as their highest level of education.

The below graph shows how the unemployment rate by education status has changed in South Africa from 2011 to 2018.

This data was further corroborated by an analysis of SA university exit surveys done by the Mail & Guardian, which found that a large percentage of graduate go on to be gainfully employed.

According to the paper, between 83% and 97% of graduates from major SA universities go on to find work within six months of graduating – the only outlier being the University of KwaZulu Natal, where the rate is much lower.

  • University of the Witwatersrand – 97%
  • Nelson Mandela University – 95%
  • North-West University – 87%
  • University of Pretoria – 85%
  • University of Johannesburg – 83%
  • University of Cape Town (incl. post-grad) – 80%
  • University of KwaZulu Natal – 33%

While the data shows that not every graduate is guaranteed to find a job, having a degree or some form of tertiary qualification does significantly improve one’s chances.

Best-paying degrees

Salary data released by CareerJunction and other jobs portals provide insight into the average salaries across specific jobs, typically listing engineering jobs and those in ICT as the highest-paying in the country.

According to salary data from wage tracking group, PayScale, this is also reflected in the average salary data across degree types – showing that people with engineering degrees are paid higher than other degree types.

PayScale’s data is based on user-inputted information, updated to February 2019.

For each degree listed below, thousands of user profiles were tracked in each category where it was listed, totalling over 16,000 submissions from South Africa.

PayScale’s system allows for specific degrees to be indicated – but in the table below we’ve used the general degree categories. For example, the general BCom category shows an average salary of R327,000 a year, but those who studied a BCom Accounting show an average of R354,000.

Because the data reflects an average, we have also included the minimum and maximum recorded salaries per degree, which range from entry-level positions, to CEOs, whose salaries are in the millions. Numbers have been rounded.

Degree MIN Average MAX
Bachelor of Engineering R123 000 R411 000 R2 600 000
Bachelor of Accounting R68 000 R373 000 R2 500 000
Bachelor of Science R95 000 R337 000 R2 300 000
Bachelor of Commerce R71 000 R327 000 R1 800 000
Bachelor of Technology R82 000 R291 000 R1 000 000
Bachelor’s Degree R273 000
Bachelor of Business Administration R54 000 R259 000 R2 100 000
Bachelor of Arts R60 000 R231 000 R2 100 000
Bachelor of Education R54 000 R194 000 R811 000


PayScale’s data also covers the average salaries of alumni from South Africa’s major universities, tracking over 25,000 profiles where school attended was given.

Here, UKZN tops the list with an average salary of R422,000 per year – with Nelson Mandela University at the tail end at an average of R247,000 per year.

University Average
University of KwaZulu Natal R422 000
University of the Witwatersrand R402 000
University of Pretoria R344 000
University of Cape Town R343 000
Stellenbosch University R337 000
Unisa R317 000
University of Johannesburg R289 000
Nelson Mandela University R247 000

Read: Government plans to regulate university fees: report

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