What Are The Different Types Of Higher Education Qualifications?

In South Africa there are quite a few higher education qualifications both at universities and colleges, keep reading to find out more about these qualifications.


There are various qualifications which students can obtain after high school. South Africa's National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is responsible for providing the guidelines which higher education systems make use of. It provides a framework for the qualifications within each study level. 

Higher education qualifications begin from level 5 and go in the following order:

  • Level 5: Higher Certificates and Advanced National (vocational) Cert.
  • Level 6: National Diploma and Advanced Certificates
  • Level 7: Bachelor's degree, Advanced Diplomas
  • Level 8: Honors degree, Postgraduate Diploma, and Professional Qualifications
  • Level 9: Master's degree
  • Level 10: Doctor's degree 

Obtaining a certificate implies that a student has gained a basic level of understanding of higher education knowledge and skills. After completing a Certificate course students will be able to make use of these skills in the workplace. 

Higher Certificate 

This qualification may take 2 to 3 years to complete. 

A Higher Certificate is a skills based, vocational qualification which means that focus is placed on how skills are applied. Students choose a specific field of work and they will then focus on achieving a set of skills required in that field. 

The course material is usually industry orientated. This qualification will also allow you to enrol for an even higher qualification such as an advanced certificate or diploma course, which is in the same or related field of study. 

Advanced Certificate 

This qualification may take 1 to 2 years to complete. The courses within this qualification is meant to equip you with extensive understanding of the field you are studying. This level of certification is specialised which can improve a student's job opportunities. 

National Diploma 

This qualification may take 3 to 4 years to complete. Programmes in this qualification equips students with the needed practical skills in their chosen industry. Students acquire technical skills needed in a specific area in these courses. 

There is a National Diploma and a National N Diploma and the difference is that the National N Diploma is obtained after a student successfully completes N4, N5 and N6 qualifications together wirh 18 months of practical work. 

Advanced Diploma 

This qualification is obtained in preparation for professional work. It can be taken by a graduate of a bachelor's degree in order to study a field that is related to their previous level of study.

This qualification can increase the marketability or attractiveness to potential employers of a graduate. 

Bachelor's Degree 

This qualification consists of long-term learning programmes which may take 3 to 5 years to complete. It enables graduates to demonstrate knowledge and skills required for opportunities in the job market, further education and training, postgraduate studies, or expert practice in a wide range of career fields.

Students progress from this degree to master's and doctoral programs within the same course. 

Postgraduate Diploma 

This qualification is usually completed after a bachelor's program and can be helpful for students who may need specialized skills for the workplace in the career field they have chosen. 

Bachelor Honours Degree

This degree follows an undergraduate bachelor's degree and it is the qualification students need if they aim to specialise in their chosen career field. This degree provides students with a deeper understanding of their field and helps students to prepare for research and postgraduate studies. 

Master's Degree 

This qualification usually takes two years to complete. It involves a combination of coursework and research dissertations. Students usually engage in advanced research and independent study. 

Doctoral Degree

This qualifications is usually called a PhD and can take 2 to 3 years to complete. This qualification indicates that a student has achieved the highest level of study in a certain field and involves a lot of research work. 

Students are required to write a thesis on a particular topic in their chosen field under the guidance of a supervisor. 


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