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.

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 Type Average
Bachelor of Engineering R411 000
Bachelor of Accounting R382 000
Bachelor of Science R353 000
Bachelor of Commerce R342 000
Bachelor of Finance R327 000
Bachelor of Technology R297 000
Bachelor’s Degree  R297 000
Bachelor of Business Administration R271 000
Bachelor of Laws R244 000
Bachelor of Arts R240 000
Bachelor of Education R200 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 Average
University of KwaZulu Natal R421 000
University of the Witwatersrand R403 000
University of Pretoria R353 000
University of Cape Town R353 000
Stellenbosch University R346 000
Unisa R326 000
University of Johannesburg R306 000
University of Johannesburg R299 000
Nelson Mandela University R255 000

Read: The average salary from an MBA in South Africa vs a Doctorate, Master’s and Bachelor’s degree