How much will it cost to go to a South African university in 2016?

South African students made history in October 2015 by forcing the government to put a moratorium on tuition fee increases for 2016. That meant that students would pay the same fees in 2016 as they paid in 2015. I was commissioned by Africa Check, a fact-checking project, to write a report on the tuition fees at South Africa’s universities with an interactive map and charts that compare the costs of some of the degrees offered and how much those fees had increased between 2014 and 2015. Africa Check published the report in late October 2015 and it was their most-read report of the year. I used Tableau and Datawrapper for the visualisation and charts. Read the report below:

Working out how much it costs to get a degree in South Africa is not as simple as you’d think. For a start, South Africa has 25 universities and together they offer hundreds of different degrees.

In 2004, the government restructured the old apartheid-era tertiary education sector. Today there are 11 “traditional universities”: the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, Rhodes University , the University of the Western Cape, the University of Pretoria, University of Fort Hare, North-West University, the University of Limpopo, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of the Free State.

The former technikons as now called universities of technologies, of which there are eight: the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Central University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Tshwane University of Technology and Vaal University of Technology. In 2014, two new universities of technology opened: Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga.

Some of the former traditional universities merged with former technikons to become what are known as comprehensive universities. There are six: the University of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of South Africa, the University of Venda, Walter Sisulu University and the University of Zululand.

The 17 traditional and comprehensive universities offer traditional academically oriented degrees, such as Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Bachelor of Commerce (BComm). The universities of technology offer more career-oriented Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degrees – generally to students who have obtained a three-year national diploma. There are a huge number of BTech degrees, ranging from fashion and emergency medical care to extraction metallurgy.

A full list of the degrees and tuition fees published by the universities is available here.

The #feesmustfall movement started in the traditional universities, but students from the universities of technology and comprehensive universities joined in because the same financial pressures apply to students across all the tertiary education institutions.

Note: For practical reasons, Africa Check looked into the tuition fees for only the universities that offer traditional degrees. Of the 17 universities that offer these degrees, 11 published estimated yearly tuition fees for 2015 for the first year of study. It must be noted that these fees are estimates and can be used only as a guide to the cost of the first-year of a bachelor’s degree. A degree can be made up of a number of different subjects and those ultimately determine the yearly tuition fees. Universities often give two values for the estimated tuition fees for a degree: the upper and lower limits, to indicate the range within which a degree’s tuition fees for the year are likely to fall.

South Africa’s most expensive degree

The University of Cape Town’s Bachelor of Medicine (MBBCh) is the most expensive first-year degree out of the fees obtained by Africa Check to date. At R64,500, it costs R23,000 more than the first-year medicine degree offered by the University of the Free State.

In 2014, the University of Limpopo’s estimated tuition fee for a first-year medicine degree was the least expensive, at around R31,800. Africa Check was unable to obtain its fees for 2015 at the time of publishing, but if its MBBCh fees increase by the average 11% or less, it will remain the least expensive university for first-year medicine.

South Africa’s most expensive university

The three most expensive first-year degrees are all at the University of Cape Town (UCT): medicine is first, followed by two degrees that specialise in actuarial science, one a BBusSc and a BComm. These all cost more than R60,000 per year.

UCT also came out the most expensive when compared with the other universities on the cost of a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Science.

In fact, of the 31 degrees that were estimated to cost R50,000 or more for the first year of study, 20 were at UCT (see endnote), nine were at the University of the Witwatersrand, one was at the University of Johannesburg (in the science faculty) and the last was Stellenbosch University’s medicine degree.

Fee increases

Between 2014 and 2015 the estimated yearly tuition fees for the different degrees on offer increased by varying amounts. The MBBCh degrees increased by an average of 11% at four universities for which Africa Check obtained both 2014 and 2015 fees. This meant that UCT’s first-year medicine degree cost R6,500 more in 2015 than in 2014, for example.

At Wits, the tuition fees for first-year medicine have risen 24% since 2013, from R47,030 to R58,140 in 2015. That’s an increase of R11,110 over two years.

The fees information collected so far shows that the increases are not always uniform across all the degrees. For example, the lower range of a BComm degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal increased by 25% (or nearly R8,000), whereas the University of Pretoria’s increased by only 4% (or R1,710).


A comment on Africa Check drew attention to a message from UCT’s vice-chancellor on the subject of the university’s fees.

He said that UCT cross-subsidises poor students from the fees paid by wealthier students by “allocating about 12% (R125 million) of all the fees we raise to topping up the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allocation”.

“We also raise a further R200-R300 million from corporates, alumni and foundations, which, together with NSFAS, generates about R500 million annually to ensure that no student is turned away on the basis of affordability.”

Data sources

  1. Statistics on post-school education and training in South Africa: 2013 , Department of higher education and training, March 2015.
  2. University of Venda website
  3. My choice @ Unisa 2014 and 2015
  4. UJ Student Fees 2014 and 2015
  5. University of the Witwatersrand Schedule of Fees 2014 and Fees 2015.
  6. University of Stellenbosch Fees 2015 and Fees 2014
  7. Rhodes University Fees and Charges for 2015
  8. North-West University fees sent by university via email.
  9. University of Pretoria tuition fees and per faculty
  10. University of Limpopo, Financial Rules Conditions and Fees for 2014
  11. UKZN Student Fees Guide 2015 and Student Fee Guide 2014.
  12. University of Cape Town Student Fees 2015 and Student Fees 2014
  13. UFS Fees Yearbook 2015 and 2014

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