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Studying in South Africa: the Pros and Cons

Do you wish to study anywhere other than North America or Europe? Then, South Africa may be one of your options.

Apart from having world-class universities, this country boasts breathtaking nature and an incredibly diverse population. If you are considering South Africa as your study destination, look at the pros and cons of studying here.


South African universities offer high-quality education

Higher education institutions of this country are featured in THE World University ranking (highest one is on 155th place) and QS World University Rankings. Three top universities on the African continent are found in South Africa, boasting high research output and traditions for academic excellence.

The University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and University of Johannesburg are among the best universities in South Africa.


The degrees are recognized everywhere in the world

The educational system in South Africa is comparable with other systems - for example, North American or European ones.

To be admitted, you will need proof of your previous studies and, in some cases, a certificate of English language proficiency. There may be some exams or university- or program-specific requirements, too.

A bachelor's degree takes three years of full-time study, while a master's degree takes one or two years. The academic year is divided into two semesters, the first of which runs from early February to early June and the second of which runs from mid-July to late November.

The Credit Accumulation and Transfer (CAT) system is used by several universities. The basis of the method is awarding one credit for every ten notional hours of learning, with learning encompassing both contact time and supervised independent learning or self-study. A semesters’ worth of study at between 60 and 72 credits is equivalent to 60 UK CAT points; 30 ECTS credits; or 15 US credits/ credit hours.

The tuition fees are modest

Tuition fees are not low, but they are modest in comparison with the fees of American or Western European universities. An international student on both levels (Bachelor’s and Master’s) can expect to pay less than $5000 a year depending on the university and the program. Of course, specialized graduate courses and MBA programs cost much more than that.

International students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) pay the same tuition as South African students. Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and 12 other nations are among the SADC's members.

There are several scholarships available for undergraduate and graduate study.

English is widely spoken in South Africa

Along with ten other languages, English is the official language in South Africa and the language of instruction in South African universities. It means that you will have no problem communicating with your teachers, peers, or school administration.

Making friends, exploring the country, finding books in the library, or simply buying groceries is also much easier when English is widely spoken and understood.

The study permission will be valid for the duration of the program or degree

Those without a South African passport will almost certainly need a visa to visit and stay in the country for the duration of their study. If your studies take longer than three months, you, most likely, will need to apply for a student visa. In the vast majority of situations, applications must be presented in person at a South African embassy or consulate overseas. The student might contact the immigration authorities if they are already in South Africa.

But guess what? Unlike European countries or the USA, where you have to apply for a student residence permit every year, South Africa issues the study permit valid for the full duration of your degree or the course of study.  Foreign nationals on a student visa are also allowed to work up to 20 hours per week.

South Africa embraces diversity and is a beautiful place to live, with vibrant wildlife

Since the days of apartheid, South Africa has come a long way. This ethnically diverse country boasts a staggering 11 official languages, providing every foreign student with a unique and rewarding learning experience.

There are national parks where you can see wild animals in their natural habitat, beautiful mountains, rocky deserts, and sandy beaches, as well as cities that boast bars and world-class restaurants featuring fusion between local, Dutch, and French cuisines. Sunny days, as well as occasional rain, may be expected throughout the whole year.


There are some areas that should be avoided for safety reasons

Don’t let the media frighten you, but, as a foreign student, do be aware of the places where crime levels are high. Usually, these are impoverished, densely inhabited districts on the fringes of big cities. Some of them, especially in Johannesburg, should be avoided. Things have been improving recently, but it is best to remain cautious.  

Slow administration may frustrate you

If public institutions in your country work like a clock, then don’t hold the South African ones up to the same standards. Processing your documents may not be as quick and efficient as you would expect. The best way to deal with this problem is to accept that things will proceed at a slower pace, and sometimes there is no way to control it.

Universities’ websites do not always work well

Students report that some universities’ websites are often down, meaning students cannot always register in time for the courses. The delay in registration influences the assignment due dates and the exam dates, and this may be quite frustrating, too.  

Living costs are rather on the high side

Expenses are lower when compared to the rest of the developed world, but South Africa is not a cheap country. Various sources indicate that international students may expect to spend $7500 per year in living expenses (accommodation, food, and other necessities). If you wish to take an opportunity of staying in South Africa to explore the surroundings, national parks and seaside, then the expenses may be higher.