A bachelor’s degree isn’t enough in South Africa

 ·31 Mar 2024

Since 1996, there have been significant changes in the tertiary qualifications that South Africans obtain, with a significant shift towards people opting to further their skills and specialise by completing an honours degree.

This was revealed by a recently released report by StatsSA, which used 2022’s census to create a profile of education enrolment, attainment and progression in South Africa by StatsSA.

In the report, tertiary qualifications refer to qualifications obtained after secondary education.

Using individuals over the age of 25, the different qualifications identified are:

  • Certificate;
  • Diploma;
  • Bachelor’s degree;
  • Honours degree;
  • Master’s degree;
  • Doctorate degree;
  • and Other.

Highest post-school qualification level by individuals aged 25 years (in %)

Post-school qualification19962022Change
Bachelor’s degree21.725.33.6
Honours degree2.510.68.1
Master’s degree2.95.22.3
Doctorate degree1.41.80.4
Source: StatsSA Census 1996 & 2022

The biggest increase was seen in the obtainment of honours degrees. The report said this “indicates a growing emphasis on specialised education and skills development,” as bachelor’s degrees provide broader, theoretical knowledge.

Looking at the rise in certificates, the report noted that “while universities offer degrees such as bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, technical and vocational colleges provide certificates… in various fields… offer[ing a] more practical and hands-on training.”

These are ultimately “highly valued in many industries, as they provide specialised skills and knowledge directly applicable to specific professions or trades.”

What people are studying by gender

Fields of education by individuals aged 25 years and older by sex, Census 2022. Graphic: StatsSA

The distribution of fields of education by gender highlights certain trends and disparities in educational choices among individuals aged 25 years and older in 2022.

“While women dominate in fields such as office administration, social sciences, psychology, languages, health professions, and education, they remain underrepresented in fields traditionally associated with ‘male-dominated industries’,” said the report.

These include fields “such as electrical infrastructure, security and intelligence services, military sciences, engineering, architecture, and the built environment.”

“This underrepresentation of women in these fields reflects broader societal norms and stereotypes regarding gender roles and career paths,” it added.

The report said a collective focus should be on fostering gender equality and diversity in education and the workforce.

StatsSA said strategies should be implemented to reduce imbalances, which “can be achieved through targeted initiatives to attract and retain women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”

Overall, it calls for creating supportive environments and removing barriers for those wanting to break into “non-traditional fields,” which can ultimately enhance inclusivity and diversity in the workforce and education.

Read: University fees 2024: how much it costs to study in South Africa

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