Why you need a degree in South Africa – qualification salaries compared

 ·22 May 2024

Having a degree is a must in South Africa, and data shows that it boosts employability and earnings potential significantly.

The Financial Times Global MBA index for 2024 shows that graduates of these Master’s programmes often see huge salary jumps, making them one of the most lucrative avenues to boost one’s earnings.

The FT found that people who have studied and qualified for their MBAs had seen their salaries more than double within three years of completing the qualification.

Some even saw their salaries triple (over 200%) in emerging markets such as India and China.

Salary increases among the programmes assessed by the FT ranged from 40% to 230%, with the salaries themselves ranging between US$89,800 (R1.6 million) to US$250,650 (R4.55 million).

While South African universities were not ranked among the best in the world in the FT ranking, salary data from PayScale provides insight and corroborates the FT’s findings.

According to PayScale’s data, the average salary of MBA holders in the country sits at R847,000, with salaries ranging from R284,000 for professionals working in lower-end jobs, to CEOs earning in the millions of rand (R2 million-plus).

This is more than double the average salary for those who hold a bachelor’s degree (which varies depending on type) and four times the average salaries seen by those who hold a diploma.

The only other degree type to carry a higher average salary is the Executive MBA, where the average climbs to R960,000, with the ranges increasing accordingly.

As expected, aligning with the various levels of specialisation, those who hold a doctorate command the next highest average, followed by masters, bachelors and diplomas.

Because PayScale’s data relies on user submissions, the accuracy depends on scale. The measurements below are based on the input of thousands of user profiles tracked in each category, totalling over 8,000 submissions from South Africa.

QualificationLower rangeAverageUpper range
Executive MBAR318 000R958 000R2 000 000+
MBAR284 000R847 000R2 000 000+
Doctorate (PhD)R223 000R562 000R2 000 000+
Post Graduate (Honours and Masters)R181 000R472 000R1 000 000+
Bachelor’s DegreeR90 000R327 000R963 000
DiplomaR86 000R227 000R741 000

Aside from having more earning power, getting good qualifications in South Africa is also a must for anyone hoping to be gainfully employed at all.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2024 shows that graduates, while not immune to the country’s persistent unemployment crisis, they are the least affected by it.

According to Stats SA’s data, with an unemployment rate of 32.9%, the position for those with just a matric or less than a matric are more adversely affected, with unemployment among these workers at 34.5% and 39.1%, respectively.

For South Africans with degrees, unemployment levels are sitting at 11.8%, a much better position, albeit worse than the same time last year.

Even having any other tertiary qualification puts job seekers in a stronger position, with unemployment levels dropping to 22.5% in this category.

Stats SA said these numbers illustrate the significant impact of education on mitigating the unemployment rate.

“Possessing a tertiary education, especially a degree, enhances one’s likelihood of securing employment,” it said.

Read: This South African MBA just ranked among the best in the world

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