Studying in South Africa

Universities in South Africa

Why study in South Africa

As the newest recruit to the BRICS group of major emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa has made massive advances in the two decades since the end of apartheid and the restoration of majority rule.

  • Its universities too have been through root and branch reform to replace the rigid racially-based system damaged by years of isolation through an international academic boycott with one that is fit for the purpose of driving the reconstruction of the nation.
  • With its considerable natural resources, comfortable climate and outstanding environment it is no wonder that it is beginning to attract international students to its better known universities.

This positive picture has to be balanced by the difficulties that the democratically-elected government has faced in tackling the lingering injustices of apartheid. Glaring inequalities of wealth remain, provision of public utilities is under pressure and crime is an ever-present shadow.

  • South Africa has the fifth-highest per capita income in Africa, although poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than GB£1 (US$1.25) a day.

Entry and visa regulations

International students require a valid study visa which enables you to study at the university of your choice.

  • If this changes you will need to apply for a change of status. It usually takes at least six weeks for a study visa application to be processed.
  • The application must be made at the South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in the country of residence.

Applications must be supported by:

  • A passport valid for not less than 30 days after intended studies.
  • Administrative fee of R425 (approximately £27).
  • Confirmation and proof of payment of South African Medical Aid Cover with a medical scheme registered with the SA Medical Schemes Council. Cover must remain valid for the duration of the calendar year.
  • Letter of offer from university stating the duration of degree, confirming that the student is not taking the place of a local student and undertaking to inform the Department of Home Affairs when the student deregisters.
  • Medical and radiological reports (less than six months old).
  • Yellow Fever vaccination certificate, if relevant.
  • Relevant certificates if married, widowed, divorced or separated.
  • Details regarding arranged accommodation while in South Africa.
  • Proof of sufficient funds to cover tuition fees and maintenance.
  • A police clearance certificate for the past 12 months or longer since the age of 18.
  • A cash deposit or a return ticket to country of origin.

English language tests

  • No formal test is required but universities will require evidence of proficiency in English, Afrikaans or one of the country’s nine other official languages.
  • While tuition is invariably in English, former Afrikaner universities still teach predominantly in Afrikaans and one university has recently hit the headlines for proposing to make a course in Zulu compulsory.

The university system

There are 23 public universities in South Africa: 11 traditional universities offering theoretically oriented degrees; six universities of technology offering vocational oriented diplomas and degrees; and six comprehensive universities which offer both.

  • This system has been created since 2004 to replace the apartheid-imposed division into Afrikaans-medium white universities, liberal white universities (English medium) and historically-black universities and polytechnics. Universities now draw students from every part of the population.
  • While a number of private higher education institutions have been established, there is so far only one foreign university – Australia’s Monash University has a campus in Johannesburg.
  • Most undergraduate degrees take three years, but some such as engineering, architecture and medicine, will be longer. The academic year is divided into two semesters, running from early February to mid-June, and from mid-July to mid-December.
  • Applications for entry are handled by the university to which you are applying. Each university has minimum entry requirements. The closing date for normal applications is in September before entry in February.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees vary widely between institutions and courses.

  • At Wits they range from R94,700 up to R177,770 (£5,987–11,239) for clinical courses. At Cape Town, international students pay a minimum (R70,000/£4,425) of the standard course fee plus an international student fee of R35,000 (£2,213) a year (total minimum R110,000/£6,955).
  • In addition, Wits, for example, recommends that students budget for an additional R6,000 (£380) for books and stationery.

There is little in the way of financial support for international students outside Africa. International students are not eligible for support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (the South African government student loan and bursary scheme).

  • The major banks offer student loans to non-South Africans with valid study permits.
  • Bank loans, unlike NSFAS loans, will also cover studies at a private institution.
  • When applying for a bank loan, you will have to show proof of registration at an educational institution. You'll also need a parent or guardian, to stand surety.

Student accommodation

Universities will have accommodation on campus for international students.

  • At Wits, for example, the most expensive option including all meals is R44,000 (£2,782) although cheaper options are available.
  • Private board and lodging for 10 months will cost a minimum R3,500 (£221) per month and the university recommends budgeting for a total annual cost of R56,000 (£3,540).

Costs of living

The cost of living in South Africa is relatively cheap in comparison to the UK.

  • An average person would need around R1,500 (£95) for food a month, which breaks down to about R50 (£3.16) per day.
  • Many students will live in university residences with an all-in catering deal so additional costs are for social activities.

Some typical costs in South Africa (GBP, March 2015) include:

  • Apartment rent, 1 bedroom: £196 - £231 per month
  • Meal, inexpensive restaurant: £4.35
  • Meal at McDonalds: £2.72
  • Domestic beer (0.5 litre draught): £1.09
  • Imported beer (0.33 litre bottle): £1.19
  • Cappuccino: £0.99
  • Coke/Pepsi (0.33 litre bottle): £0.52
  • Water (0.33 litre bottle): £0.43
  • Loaf of bread: £0.60
  • Cigarettes: £1.86
  • One-way ticket local transport: £0.65
  • Cinema ticket: £2.99

Working while studying

  • If you are on a student permit you are allowed to do part-time work that does not take up more than 20 hours of any week.

Health and safety

Health care in South Africa varies from the most basic primary health care, offered free by the state, to highly specialised, hi-tech health services available in the both the public and private sector.

  • However, the public sector is stretched and under-resourced in places. While the state contributes about 40 per cent of all expenditure on health, the public health sector is under pressure to deliver services to about 80 per cent of the population.
  • The private sector, on the other hand, is run largely on commercial lines and caters to middle- and high-income earners who tend to be members of medical schemes. It also attracts most of the country's health professionals.
  • Private medical insurance and evidence of screening for TB are among the conditions for a student permit application.

Visitors should be aware of the HIV crisis in the country and act accordingly.

  • In 2011 5.38 million people out of a total population of 50 million were living with HIV, up from 4.21 million in 2001. More than 16 per cent of the adult population (aged 15–49) years were HIV positive.

Crime and South Africa have become synonymous and visitors should take the risk very seriously.

  • Compared to most countries, there is a very high rate of murders, assaults, rapes (adult, child and infant), and other crimes.
  • Most emigrants from South Africa state that crime was a big factor in their decision to leave.
  • Nationals have adjusted their life styles accordingly – motorists habitually drive with doors locked to reduce the risks from carjackings, will not stop at red traffic lights in certain areas, and rarely walk when out and about.
  • Visitors are advised to take precautions, listen to local advice on where and where not to go and not to offer resistance if mugged.
  • About 50 people are murdered every day but rates are decreasing.
  • Illegally-held guns are widespread and knives are frequently used.
  • The country has been referred to as the 'rape capital of the world' – one in three of 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.
  • Despite the widespread availability of cannabis and other drugs, the penalties can be severe – 25 years and an unlimited fine for dealing and up to 15 years for possession.

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