The degrees that pay the best average salaries in South Africa
The degrees that pay the best average salaries in South Africa

Statistics South Africa has published its Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2019, showing that South Africa ended last year with an unemployment rate of 29.1%.

This leaves the country’s unemployment rate frozen at record highs, with the pace of job creation unable to keep track with the mounting job losses.

The country saw a net loss of 108,000 jobs in 2019, despite 145,000 more jobs in the formal sector.

However, as in previous surveys, there is a clear distinction between the unemployment rates across various education levels, with far more favourable conditions for those who have tertiary qualifications of some kind – and even better conditions for graduates.

According to Stats SA, of the 6.7 million unemployed persons, 55.9% had education levels below matric, followed by those with matric at 34.7% in the fourth quarter of 2019.

By comparison, only 1.9% of the unemployed persons were graduates while 6.8% had other tertiary qualifications as their highest level of education.

It was also those in these latter two categories who saw growth in employment both quarter and quarter, and year on year – further showing the importance of having qualifications in South Africa.

Unemployment proportion
Unemployment by education

Best-paying degrees

Past salary data, and commentary from countless companies, show that businesses are in desperate need for skills – and are willing to pay big salaries to secure them.

These skill demands tend towards the more technical fields, but throughout the years of salary information being disseminated in the public domain, engineering and finance jobs typically rank as some of the best-paid in the country.

This is again corroborated by the latest update to salary data from wage-tracking group, PayScale, which shows that submissions listing an engineering degree are some of the highest earners, on average, in the country.

While companies are constantly looking for skills, it must be noted that a qualification alone is not enough, as more often than not, these groups are looking for expertise and experience, which is something that comes with time and application.

To contextualise this in the table below, PayScale’s data is largely comprised of early to mid-level career submissions, which account for 65% to 70% of the data shown.

Entry level and late career submissions account for under 5%, each, with the balance being those who are well experienced in their fields.

This accounts for the relatively low averages in the salaries, as there are wide salary ranges, where an entry level worker, say in tech support, would draw a much smaller salary than the multi-million rand pay of a tech CEO.

Qualification TypeAverage
Bachelor of EngineeringR411 000
Bachelor of AccountingR382 000
Bachelor of ScienceR353 000
Bachelor of CommerceR342 000
Bachelor of FinanceR327 000
Bachelor of TechnologyR297 000
Bachelor’s Degree R297 000
Bachelor of Business AdministrationR271 000
Bachelor of LawsR244 000
Bachelor of ArtsR240 000
Bachelor of EducationR200 000


PayScale’s data also covers the average salaries of alumni from South Africa’s major universities, tracking over 23,600 profiles where school attended was given.

Here, UKZN tops the list with an average salary of R421,000 per year – with Nelson Mandela University at the tail end at an average of R255,000 per year.

University of KwaZulu NatalR421 000
University of the WitwatersrandR403 000
University of PretoriaR353 000
University of Cape TownR353 000
Stellenbosch UniversityR346 000
UnisaR326 000
University of JohannesburgR306 000
University of JohannesburgR299 000
Nelson Mandela UniversityR255 000