How much did a first year at a SA tertiary institution cost in 2018?


In December 2017, hot on the heels of the #Feesmustfall campaign, then-president Jacob Zuma made the shock announcement that government will subsidise free tertiary education for poor and working class students who come from households with a combined annual income of R350,000 or less, starting in 2018. 

Zuma also made provision for “the missing middle” students – those from households earning up to R600 000 annually – to have their 2018 fee increase paid for by the state through gap grant funding. 

While president Cyril Ramaphosa’s government grapples with the enormity and practicality of Zuma’s announcement, students whose combined family income exceeds R600 000 per year will unfortunately still have to pay for their higher education for the foreseeable future. Exactly how much will depend on your chosen course and institution. 

Most universities and colleges have a detailed fees booklet that lays out the costs of your studies. Though fee structures can vary from institution to institution, here are some of the common costs of the first year.

The first-year tuition fees for different qualifications

Your annual tuition fees will depend on what and where you study. A diploma from a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college could be cheaper than a diploma from a University of Technology, while a degree from a private institution could cost twice as much as the same degree from a traditional university.

Courses are also cheaper at distance-learning institutions, such as the University of South Africa (Unisa), than at the residential universities.

Generally, you don't pay per course, but rather per subject that makes up your degree or diploma. You could save money in your first year by choosing fewer courses, but this could end up costing you more.

Remember that the longer you extend your course, the longer you will have to pay for additional expenses such as accommodation and transport. It also means that you will have to wait longer before you qualify and start earning a salary.

To give you an idea of what first-year studies cost, we've compared the costs of some common degrees, diplomas and certificates from different public and private colleges and universities. Tap on a column to sort alphabetically or per fee (lowest to highest or highest to lowest).

Note: These fees are for 2018, and are for South African citizens only. Different fees apply for international students.


Non-tuition fees

1. Application fees 

Most universities charge a non-refundable application fee of between R100 and R500. (Keep in mind that paying an application fee does not mean that your application will be successful.) Some institutions, like Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University offer free applications for both online and manual (paper-based) submissions. Other institutions, like the University of Johannesburg, offer free online applications but charge a fee of R200 for manual applications.

2. Acceptance fee or deposit

Once you are accepted, you will have to pay an “acceptance fee” or “deposit” to secure your place. This can be anything from R500 to R5,000, and is usually non-refundable and non-creditable (which means that it is not credited to your account).

3. Registration or enrolment fees and down payments

When you register, you will be expected to pay a registration or enrolment fee. This can be anywhere from R1,200 to R10,000, depending on the university. If you're accepted into a residence, you'll also need to pay a down payment on the year's accommodation fee.

Some universities, for example Rhodes, require a registration fee of roughly 10 percent of tuition fees and, where applicable, 10 percent of residence fees. The good news is that this is usually a down payment on your total tuition, which means it comes off your tuition bill for the rest of the year. 

Always check the hand-in dates for registration, as institutions often charge a non-refundable late registration fee of between R680 and R2 250 if you miss the registration deadline.

4. Discounts

Many universities, both public and private, offer discounts if you pay your tuition in advance. There may also be discounts for siblings.

5. Other fees 

Once you’ve paid your registration fees, you might be faced with some unexpected additional fees from your institution of study. Some universities have compulsory fees such as “student levies”, “SRC fees”, “copyright fees” and “sport fees”. These may be a couple of hundred rand each. Check your university’s fees booklet for the amounts. 

In additional you may also have study-related additional costs, such as art materials and travelling expenses. Most institutions have a campus registration fee for private vehicles, as well as parking fees. You will also have to buy an access card of around R55.

6. University residences

Residential universities offer accommodation in official residences or student villages. Official accommodation comes in different shapes and forms: there are single rooms, double rooms, and apartments; self-catering or catered options; separate residences for male and female students or mixed-gender accommodation.

Residence fees can vary from R26 345 a year (for a double room at a Cape Peninsula University of Technology residence in Worcester, for example) to R43 690 (for a single room at a University of Stellenbosch residence, excluding meals). On top of your residence fees you will need to add between R16 000 and R21 000 for three standard meals a day, seven days a week. 

7. Books and equipment

The cost of books, stationery and educational equipment will depend on what you study, and where. The University of Cape Town estimates R6,000 for books and R3,000 for equipment. 

Your equipment can cost far more if you're studying art, for example, or if you study at a private institution. For example, for R20,235, private design university Inscape offers a "starter pack" that includes art equipment, design software licences, internet connectivity and a tablet.

Adding up the costs

We have spoken about tuition fees, residence fees and other expenses, but how do they all add up? Let’s take a look at the following example:

A female first-year student wants to study BCom Accounting. She needs full accommodation, with all meals, and is willing to share a room. She has received no bursaries and have no siblings, so no sibling discount applies. She's a South African citizen.

Source: UCT website

Source: UKZN website 

Sources: UP website, UP estimate fees

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Chat back:

How much have you paid in university fees for your children? If they're about to study, how do you plan to fund their studies? Please send us your comments and we could publish them. 

Also see:

SA's universities and colleges: contact details

Bursaries, scholarships and loans: here's how to fund your studies

What if I don't get into my dream university or course?

Matrics, here's all you need to know about the National Benchmark tests

Help your child to study abroad

Should I take a gap year?

Read more: 

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