Difference Between Institutions in South Africa

by Hannah Maidment

When you’re finishing school and trying to decide what to do with the rest of your life, you often get bombarded with options and information. This makes it difficult to be keep track of what’s what. Don’t panic; we’ve got a breakdown of the differences between the three biggest types of tertiary institutions.

Choosing what you want to do with the rest of your life is a pretty daunting decision. When you need to pick an institution and qualification on the spot, this decision gets even more hectic.  When did life get so real?

Knowing the fundamental differences between these institutions can help you decide which place of study is best suited to you. This will actually make your decision slightly easier. First things first, it is a good idea to know the NQF ratings breakdown of specific degrees:

NQF Rating



Grade 9 (National Technical Certificate Level 1)


Grade 10 (National Technical Certificate Level 2)


Grade 11 (National Technical Certificate Level 3)


Grade 12 (National Senior Certificate and National Technical Certificate Level 4)


Higher Certificates and Advanced National Technical Certificates


National Diploma and Advanced Certificates


Bachelor’s Degree


Honours Degree


Master’s Degree



TVET Colleges

What is it?

  • Provide you with the knowledge and skills you require to enter a specific range of professions
  • Courses combine education, training, skills development and practical training

Level of Qualification

TVET colleges offer two main types of qualifications: National Certificate Vocational (NC(V)) qualifications and Report 191 qualifications. Both of these qualifications are NQF level 4 (this is where that table comes in). Some TVET colleges also offer National Certificates and National Introductory Certificates, which are NQF level 5. In general, a person would begin studying at a TVET college after successfully completing grade 9. This means that studying at a TVET college is more similar to getting a traditional South African Matric (NSC) than a degree or diploma which you would obtain at a university or university of technology.


There is a huge number of public TVET colleges scattered across South Africa. These colleges are heavily subsidised by the government (basically, Zuma and his team help the colleges out).  This makes studying at a TVET college a really affordable way to qualify within a specific field.


After studying at a TVET college, you are prepared to enter the work force in your chosen field. The best part is that this is not your only option. Many qualifications obtained at TVET colleges also allow you to study further within your field at a university of technology.

For more info on TVET colleges, visit this page.

Universities of Technology

What is it?

  • Qualifications more focused on becoming technically qualified within a specific field
  • More “hands-on” than those offered by universities
  • Focus on teaching students practical skills instead of theoretical concepts

Level of Qualification

Typically, universities of technology offer national diplomas, which are NQF level 6.  This differs from bachelors degrees offered at traditional universities, which are NQF level 7. There are cases, however, where you study for an extra year in order to obtain a BTech degree, which is also NQF level 7.


Universities of technology have similar fees to universities. Warning: prepare your eyes. There will be a few zeros.  The fees range from R20 000 to R50 000 per year.


Universities of technology prepare you to go into your chosen field as an expert technician or artisan. You can also pursue postgraduate studies within your chosen field at a university of technology or pursue a more theoretical degree at a traditional university.


What is it?

  • More academically focused than universities of technology
  • Do not put the same emphasis on the practical aspects of their qualifications (although some university degrees are very practical intensive)  
  • Pretty big on theoretical learning
  • Focus more on academic research within specific fields

Level of Qualification

Universities offer academic and professional qualifications. Both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications are provided, ranging from short courses and diplomas to doctorate degrees. This means that university qualifications range from NQF level 6 to NQF level 10.


Much like universities of technology, university fees range from R 20 000 to R 60 000 per annum. Sounds steep but these are standard uni fees.


University qualifications allow students to enter into a wide range of professional fields in a more academic capacity than graduates from universities of technology. They also give graduates the opportunity to enter into careers in academia.

EduConnect 2Cents

If you’re trying to decide between different qualifications, a good idea would be to get the perspective of a student who is either doing or has done the course you are interested in.  Study goals are all about living the happy student life at an institution that suits you. 

Too lazy to read? Download a free infographic on the main differences between institutions in South Africa. 

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