Education Series Volume V: Higher Education and Skills in South Africa, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                                                             28 March 2019

Education Series Volume V: Higher Education and Skills in South Africa, 2017

There has been an increase in higher education participation rates in South Africa, however, the poor transition of learners from the further training and education (FTE) phase to completion of Grade 12, to writing and passing the NSC examination, are some of the reasons that the expansion did not meet the educational needs of all. . The Higher Education and Skills in South Africa report released by Statistics South Africa today further shows that access to funding for tuition was a major concern for some of the youth who could not pursue higher education. Other barriers to higher education qualification attainments were poor performance resulting in high levels of drop out from tertiary institutions.

According to the report, the number of graduates from public higher universities more than doubled from 92 874 in 2000 to 203 076 in 2016. In 2016, the number of graduates from TVET and private colleges stood at 135 492. The time taken by students to complete their undergraduate qualifications improved over time. However, the higher education system still has challenges in terms of success and poor completion rates. Many students drop out, without completing a qualification or take up to six years to complete a three-year qualification. Very few students progress to advanced NQF levels of study (NQF levels 8–10). Honours (19,8%), masters (6,3%)  and doctoral studies (1,4%) accounted for a relatively small percentage of the overall tertiary qualifications awarded in 2016.

Challenges within the basic education system do hamper the transition of many learners to post-school education.  In 2017, only three-quarters of male students who attended Grade 10 in 2016 progressed to Grade 11, while the same was true for close to 87% female learners. During the same period, even less males (71%) who attended Grade 11 in 2016 progressed to Grade 12 the following year, while 76% of the females could do the same. The provinces that were most affected by these changes were Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal with obvious implications for the NSC performance in these provinces.  While NSC performance was generally better among male learners, no gender gap was observed in terms of bachelor pass rates.

According to the General Household Survey (GHS) 2017 data, close to 47% of youth aged 20–24 years who held bachelor degrees or qualifications equivalent to NQF level 7 belonged to the wealthiest household income quintile. In comparison, only 7,4% of youth who held qualifications equivalent to NQF level 7 came from the poorest household income quintile. Furthermore, close to 36% of youth holding postgraduate degrees or qualifications equivalent to NQF levels 8–10 belonged to the wealthiest household income quintile.

The report further shows that the general trend in participation in all institutions of post-school learning was upward with total enrolment in higher education institutions in 2016 amounting to 49,9% of all enrolments within the sector; in TVET to 30,8% of all enrolments within the sector;  in CET colleges to 11,9% of all enrolments within the sector; and private colleges to 7,4% of all enrolments within the sector. Despite gains in higher education participation rates, gender disparity was still a challenge as well as participation equity concerns for students from low income backgrounds. Female participation in 2016 at public higher educational institutions (universities) was 58% and 57% at TVET colleges. Most students were enrolled in undergraduate NQF level 7 programmes at universities, mostly studying for qualifications in the fields of business, commerce and management sciences, education or engineering. Most students enrolled at TVET colleges in 2016 were studying for Report 191 qualifications.


The GHS 2017 data indicates that only 33,8% of youth aged 18–24 were attending educational institutions, amongst which 22,2% were attending school while 11,6% were attending post-school educational institutions. Among those who were not attending educational institutions, more than half (51%) claimed that they did not have the financial means to pay for their tuition and 20% claimed that they did not attend because they have already completed or were satisfied with their level of education. More than three quarters of the black African, Indian/Asian and coloured 18-24-year-olds who were not attending because they were happy with their level of education only completed secondary schooling. The comparative figure for whites was 64%.  Furthermore, 18% amongst 18-24 years old who were not attending educational institutions indicated that they were prevented from participating by their poor academic performance.

According to the report between 2010 and 2017, a total of R70,8 billion in National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding was granted to more than 3 million students. In 2017, 85,7% of the money allocated to NSFAS was granted to university students while the rest (14,3%) was granted to students at TVET colleges.


For technical enquiries contact:

Dr Isabelle Schmidt

Chief Director: Social Statistics

Tel: 012 310 6379



Dr Seble Worku

Director: Education Statistics

Tel: 012 310 8480



For media enquiries contact:

Ms Lesedi Dibakwane

Tel: 012 310 8578

Cell: 082 805 7088



Issued by Statistics South Africa