Leaving school and enrolling at a tertiary institution is a big step in one’s life and making the right choices early on is definitely a major stress reliever. In South Africa there are a number of different types of institutions that you could attend. The first two, which probably come to mind, are universities and technikons. It is quite probable that you may be having some difficulty deciding whether you should go to tech or varsity. Some of the differences between the two institution types include the minimum requirements, type of courses or work covered and most importantly the qualification at the end of the road.
Entrance Requirements
To enrol at a university in South Africa you need to have obtained a Senior Certificate with matric endorsement at the end of your grade 12 year. A matric endorsement is achieved when a scholar passes the year with a minimum of three subjects on higher grade. (Make sure that you know the updated requirements for an endorsement before going into your final examinations.) However, some varsities may set additional requirements for the student to achieve in order to be accepted and certain courses require more than the minimum due to levels of difficulty or specialization.

It is not as rigorous to get into a technikon but this does not mean that the level of education will be of a lesser standard. The basic requirement is that you achieve a Senior Certificate at the end of your grade 12 year. However, you do not need to pass with endorsement. Some courses, depending on the technikon, may ask for additional requirements for the student to be accepted. Other certificates can also be used to apply for acceptance into a South African tech. These however, must be of equal standard to the requirements or be approved by the tech’s senate.
Types of Courses
Technikons offer a more profession-orientated education when compared to a university. What this means is that at a tech the student may learn the skills required to operate in one specific occupation. The university on the other hand may train its students to be capable of managing a company, for example, no matter what its particular function. Technikons offer far more career orientated programmes designed to meet the needs of industry and commerce. There is a practical approach to education where the students will ultimately be able to apply their technological knowledge in the working world as technicians and technologists specialized in one particular trade.
Universities appear to be more theory based institutions compared to the technikons. Of course they do focus on the practical side as well but most qualifications will enable a student to branch out into many different types of jobs with the ample knowledge to operate successfully. Certain career-orientated courses often take an extra year to qualify such as architecture and engineering. An element of research is also prominent in the varsity set up with research projects and thesis work often being the core of the course requirements.
The basic qualification at a technikon is the Btech diploma that is completed in four years. There are also other opportunities available so that students can work and study at the same time. Many techs around South Africa offer a specialized or advanced degree in a specific field of work.
Universities offer a basic bachelor’s degree that will only take three years to complete. Some more career orientated courses such as architecture, engineering and medicine may take longer. There are also a number of different postgraduate degrees available at a university. Straight after the bachelor’s is the Honours degree, which is usually a one-year programme, that involves course work and a research project. The Masters degree is a minimum of one-year course and research is followed by the Doctorate, which is generally a couple of year’s study and a thesis. It must be noted that certain standards are required for the student to qualify for these postgraduate courses.