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So how much does a first year at a SA university cost in 2016?
Parent24 compares different degrees at a few of South Africa’s state and private universities.

*This story was published in 2016, but many tertiary institutions managed to keep the fees the same in 2017. We will update the figures for the 2018 academic year as soon as they become available.

The #Feesmustfall campaign gained a lot of publicity in 2015/2016 and although inroads have been made, unfortunately students still have to pay for tertiary education. 

Each university should have a 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.

Read more: Want to study but can't afford the fees? Start here. 

Kinds of fees

1. Application fees 

Most universities charge a non-refundable application fee of about R100 to R300. Some institutions, like Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Johannesburg, offer free online applications (though you still have to pay if you hand in a paper-based application).

2. Acceptance fee or deposit

When you're accepted, you may have to pay an "acceptance fee" or "deposit". This can be anything from R500 to R5,000, and is usually non-refundable and non-creditable (which means it isn't credited to your account). 

3. Registration fees and down payments

When you register for the year or semester, you will probably be expected to pay a registration fee. It can be anywhere from R2,000 to R10,000, depending on the university. 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. If you're accepted into a residence, you'll also need to pay a down payment on the year's accommodation fee.

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 

Some universities have other, 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 fee booklet very carefully for these extras!

6. University residences

Residential universities offer accommodation in official residences or student villages. Official accommodation come 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 R10,315 a year (at a Cape Peninsula University of Technology residence in Worcester, for example) to R65,000 (at the University of Pretoria, all meals included). 

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 R19,508, private design university Inscape offers a "starter pack" that includes art equipment, design software licences, internet connectivity and a tablet.

8. Tuition fees

Your annual tuition fees will depend on what and where you study. A diploma from a 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 institution Unisa than at the residential universities.

Generally, you don't pay per course, but rather per subject that makes up that degree or diploma. You could save money in your first year by choosing fewer courses. But in the long run this could end up costing you more, as it would then take you longer to get your degree.

Also read: South Africa's universities and colleges: a list of nearly 200 tertiary institutions

The first-year tuition fees for different degrees

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.

Note: These fees are for 2016, and are for South African citizens only. Different fees apply for international students.

Bachelors of Arts or Social Science (BA or BSocSc)

BA degree, BAScoSc degrees

Accounting (BCom Accounting)

university fees, accounting

Information Technology (BIT, BTechIT, BScIT or equivalent)

university fees, information technology

Bachelors of Laws (LLB or BLaws)

university fees, law

Medicine (MBChB or MBBCh)

university fees, medicine

Social work (B Social Work or BA Social Work)

university fees, social work

Engineering (BEng, BSc Engineering or BTech Engineering)

university fees, engineering

Pre-primary and Primary Education (BEd: Foundation phase)

university fees, education

Music (BMus)

university fees, music

Graphic design (National Diploma in Graphic Design, BA Graphic Design or Bachelor of Design)

university fees, design

Business Administration and Business Science (B Business Admin, BBusSc or BTech Business Admin)

university fees, business school

Educare (National diploma)

university fees, educare

Hospitality management (National diploma)

university fees, hospitality

Office Administration (National certificate)

university fees, office admin


To see how all these fees might add up, let's look at an 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.

University of Cape Town

university fees, university of cape town

* University's own estimates 

Source: UCT website 

University of KwaZulu-Natal

university fees, university of kzn

Source: UKZN website

University of Pretoria

university fees, university of pretoria

Sources: UP summary of fees, UP tuition fees per faculty, UP estimate fees

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 your comments to

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