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Study in South Africa

Officially known as the Republic of South Africa (RSA), South Africa is the southernmost country on the African continent. The country covers 1.2 million square kilometres, making it the 25th largest country in the world. South Africa is home to almost 58 million people, and is referred to as the ‘rainbow nation’ due to the country’s diversity. South Africa is built upon its long and complex history, which has influenced its outlook as a modern country.

Why Study in South Africa?

Since a reform, which began in 2004, South African higher education institutions have been improving. Their universities have been consistently keeping up with the increasingly high standards for higher education systems. More than 45,000 international students choose to study in South Africa each academic year. There are 26 public universities, and 42 private universities. Public universities are split into three distinct types.

Traditional universities offer theoretically focused degrees, universities of technology (also known as technikons) offer vocationally focused degrees, and comprehensive universities offer both types of degrees.

There are 3 South African universities in the 2019 QS World University Rankings top 500. The highest ranked of these is the University of Cape Town, which is placed at 200th. The next highest ranked are the University of Witwatersrand, which is placed at 381st, and Stellenbosch University, which is placed at 405th.

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About South Africa

Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, South Africa has worked hard to become an ethnically diverse country. All ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country’s liberal democracy. The Republic of South Africa has 11 different official names, one in each of its official languages. These official languages include Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and Swazi, as well as 7 others.

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human-fossil sites in the world. An area of Gauteng Province is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been dubbed the ‘Cradle of Humankind’. The country is considered megadiverse, due to its biodiversity and commitment to maintaining and improving this biodiversity. South Africa has a temperate climate, and is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Cost of Studying and Living in South Africa

The currency used in South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR).

The tuition fees you are expected to pay will depend on more than one variable. The first variable is your home country. If you are from a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member country, then you will pay the same tuition fees as native South African nationals. If you are from any other country, you will pay an international student fee. The second variable is the specific university you choose to study at. Each institution is able to set their own tuition fees, and fees are not dictated by the government or a governing body. Your tuition fees will likely be between R35,000 and R110,000 per year for an undergraduate degree. They will typically be between R20,000 and R75,000 per year for a postgraduate degree. For specialist degrees, such as medicine degrees or MBA, fees will most likely be higher. You may be eligible for a scholarship, normally awarded for academic excellence or financial hardship. Contact your institution for more information about what funding they can offer you.

The cost of living in South Africa is less expensive, when compared to other study destinations such as the US or the UK. You should still be aware that your living costs will be dependent on the area in which you choose to study. Bigger cities will be more expensive than smaller cities and towns. Typically, you should budget for between R90,000 and R120,000 per year. This accounts for rent, utilities, groceries, travel, and other necessary expenses. It is important that you can show evidence that you have sufficient funds for tuition fees and living costs as part of your visa application.

Visas

As an international student, you will need to obtain a student visa in order to study in South Africa. Your university will not be able to register you as a student until you have a valid visa. You will need to apply for a visa at your nearest South African embassy, consulate or high commission. You can only apply for a student visa once you have received a conditional offer from a South African institution. You will then need to complete the BI-1738 application form, and provide several other supporting documents:

  • A passport, its valid until date must be at least 30 days after the end of your degree
  • 2 additional passport photos
  • An official letter of acceptance from your university
  • A clear criminal background check
  • Your flight details, including those of your return flight at the end of your degree
  • Proof of sufficient finances for tuition fees, living costs, and health insurance
  • Payment for your visa

Student visas are valid only for the duration of your degree. During this time, you are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week during term time. There are no work restrictions outside of term time. If your course requires you to take part in work experience that amounts to more than 20 hours per week, you will need to apply to the Department of Home Affairs to obtain permission. You will need to submit an offer of practical training, consent or confirmation from your university, and proof that you are still a registered student.

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages. It also has 8 other recognised regional languages. You will hear a wide variety of languages spoken across different areas of the country.

The most common languages used for teaching are English and Afrikaans. The majority of universities will allow you to choose to study courses in either language. If your study language is not your native or first spoken language, you will need to provide evidence of your proficiency. The level of proficiency required will depend on where you choose to study, as well as the level at which you are studying. Postgraduate courses and specialist degrees will generally have higher language requirements. If you do not meet the required standards, it is common for institutions to offer language courses to help you improve.

If your native language is not one of the 19 official and recognised languages, you should make the most of your opportunity to learn another language as you study. Communicating with the locals and other students is a great way to practice and improve your skills. Having proficiency in another language is something that will look great on your CV/resume.

Cities

Johannesburg

The largest city in South Africa, Johannesburg is home to just under 1 million people. The city was established in 1886, following the discovery of gold, and has been developing ever since. Although Johannesburg is not one of South Africa’s capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court.

Located in the city, there are several higher education institutions. These include AFDA, the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Johannesburg, Damelin, Lyceum College, and CTI.

Cape Town

The legislative capital of South Africa, Cape Town is home to just under half a million people. It is the oldest city in South Africa, and is known as the ‘Mother City’. The Parliament of South Africa can be found in Cape Town.

There are several universities located in the city. These include the University of Cape Town, the University of the Wester Cape (UWC), and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Stellenbosch University is situated not far out of the city.

Pretoria

The executive capital of South Africa, Pretoria is home to around 750,000 people. Pretoria is the seat of the administrative branch of the government, as well as foreign embassies. The city of Pretoria is one of South Africa’s leading academic cities, and was the birthplace of Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla).

Several universities are located in the city. These include the University of South Africa, the University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Institutions in South Africa

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