Trouble for private school fees in South Africa

 ·18 Feb 2024

Elite schools have almost doubled their annual fees over the last ten years – with data from Momentum projecting that, on average, private school fees could triple in the next decade.

Elite private schools in South Africa have hiked fees for 2024, with six out of the top ten most expensive schools now charging more than R350,000 a year for boarding and tuition.

Historically, Hilton College has been the most expensive private school in the country, with an annual fee of close to R400,000 in 2024.

The all-boys boarding school, located near Hilton in the KZN Midlands, was founded in 1872 and sits on over 1,700 hectares of land, which includes its own wildlife reserve.

Hilton and Michaelhouse are two private schools in South Africa that offer pure boarding education. Unlike other private schools, they do not offer day student education.

In 2014, Hilton was the only boarding school with an annual fee of over R200,000.

It may surprise you to know that when you compare the tuition fees of the top 10 private schools in South Africa over the past decade, Hilton had the second-lowest overall increase.

In 2024, the school’s tuition fee is R397,660, which is a 90.3% increase from R209,000 in 2014.

St Alban’s College in Pretoria, Gauteng, represents the lowest cost hike over the same period, with an increase of 81.7% from R181,000 in 2014 to R328,920 in 2024.

The tuition fees at the top 10 private schools in the country have increased by an average of over 94% within the last ten years.

Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) in Makhanda, Eastern Cape, has recorded the highest increase despite being the cheapest high school in the top 10.

DSG has more than doubled its tuition costs over the past decade, from R157,590 in 2014 to R323,040 in 2024, representing a significant increase of 104.9%.

Another school that has doubled its fees is Bishops College in Cape Town, with an increase of 103.1%.

These increases are concerning, especially considering that inflation over the same period – as measured by Stats SA – averaged 64.6%.

The table below shows the annual tuition fees of the top 10 most expensive private schools in South Africa in 2023 at the start of the decade (2014) vs now (2024) and the cost percentage change.

Note: The fees listed below are as they appear on the various schools’ web pages and cover annual boarding tuition only. Fees are for the highest level of learning available (up to grade 12). The list of tuition fees for 2014 is from the private school fees article published by BusinessTech in October 2014.

HiltonHilton, KwaZulu-NatalR209 000R397 660+90.3%
MichaelhouseBalgowan, KwaZulu-NatalR192 000R368 000+91.7%
St Andrew’s CollegeMakhanda, Eastern CapeR187 700R363 879+93.9%
Roedean School for GirlsJohannesburg, GautengR181 140R360 087+98.8%
St John’s CollegeJohannesburg, GautengR178 523R352 612+97.5%
Kearsney CollegeBotha’s Hill, KwaZulu-NatalR181 350R350 130+93.0%
Bishops CollegeCape Town, Western CapeR168 140R341 430+103.1%
St Mary’sJohannesburg, GautengR173 700R335 470+93.1%
St Alban’s CollegePretoria, GautengR181 000R328 920+81.7%
Diocesan School for GirlsMakhanda, Eastern CapeR157 590R323 040+104.9%

The increases in fees of private schools are fast becoming too expensive for many South Africans – including those who could typically afford these schools.

2024 fees for boarding schools and day schoolers increased at an average of 7.3% across the 40 most expensive schools in the country, a couple of percentage points above the SARB’s expected inflation rate over the 2023 financial year (5.8%).

This is coupled with the erosion of salaries in the country, where the average take-home pay increased by 1% over the past seven years while inflation increased by 40%, reported DebtBusters.

This means that in real terms, most South Africans had 39% less disposable income in 2023 compared to 2016 due mainly to the impact of high inflation.

Financial pain for those who could typically afford these schools are already showing signs, which Curro Holding’s latest trading statement published on 8 February 2024 highlighted.

The group noted that high schools are growing as expected, but the challenging impact of higher interest rates on constrained consumers – especially young families – means that enrolments in the earlier grades are struggling.

The group said young families have been hit hard by the rampant hikes in the cost of living in South Africa, and this has resulted in a reduction in enrolments of learners in the youngest grades of primary schools.

More interestingly, Momentum provided data that estimated the average cost of private education in South Africa over the next 11 years ending 2035.

The data considered the annual cost of day students at private schools.

The data predicted that parents could expect to pay around R192,127 per annum by 2030 – and it seems these schools are fast on track to making this a reality.

The most expensive day school in South Africa in 2023 is Kearsney College – charging R240,900 per annum for a day boy.

Read: South Africa’s ‘30%’ matric pass mark controversy – this is how the system works

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