South Africa - Country Commercial Guide
Education and Training

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2022-03-30

Capital:  Pretoria

Population:  56.98 million (July 2021 est.)

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity):  $680.04 billion (2020 est., in 2017 dollars)

Currency:  South African Rand (ZAR)

Language:  Whilst English is generally regarded as the primary medium of instruction in education, South Africa does have 11 other official languages:  Zulu (22.7% of the population), Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (13.5%), English (9.6%), Northern Sotho (9.1%), Tswana (8%), Sotho (7.6%), Tsonga (4.5%), Swati (2.5%), Venda (2.4%) and Ndebele (2.1%) 


UNESCO Student Mobility Number

South Africa has 10,503 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

CIA World Factbook

44.74% of the population in South Africa is under 25 years of age.



General:  South Africa is the most advanced, diversified, and productive economy in Africa.  Boasting one of the most pro-business environments on the continent, South Africa is a logical and attractive option for U.S. companies seeking to enter the Sub-Saharan African marketplace.  The country has covers 1.22 million square kilometers and is the world’s largest producer of platinum, vanadium, chromium, and manganese.

Economy:  South Africa has enjoyed relative macroeconomic stability but is facing increasingly strong headwinds due to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.  The economy expanded by 0.8 percent in 2018 and by 0.2 percent to $350 billion in 2019.  However, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a 7 percent contraction to $302 billion in 2020; as a result, GDP per capita has dropped to 2005 levels.  Inflation is low and interest rates are at record lows.   

The maturity of the South African economy is reflected in the mix of economic sectors:  

  • Primary (including agriculture, fishing, and mining):  10 percent
  • Secondary (manufacturing, construction, and utilities):  21 percent 
  • Tertiary (trade, transport, and services):  69 percent


Pre-Covid-19 (academic year 2019-2020), the number of South African students studying in the United States increased to 2,224 students, placing South Africa 5th in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of students studying in the U.S.  With 16.8 percent of the total South African population aged between 15- 24, there is significant potential to increase this number.

The South African education system is divided as follows: Pre-high school (7 years), High school (6 years), Lower secondary (also known as the “senior phase”) lasts through grade 9 and is mandatory.  Students typically begin lower secondary at age 12 or 13.  The curriculum for lower secondary school includes the home language, an additional language, mathematics, natural science, social science, technology, economics and management sciences, life orientation, and arts and culture.  Students receive 27.5 hours of classroom instruction per week.  Upper secondary, also known as further education and training (FET), lasts through grade 12, and is not compulsory.  Entry into this phase requires an official record of completion of grade nine.  Just as in the intermediate and senior phases, this phase comprises 27.5 classroom hours per week.  The academic year calendar runs from mid-January to early-December.

Traditionally the recommended times for U.S. education institutions to visit South Africa are May, July (private schools), August (public schools), and September.






(From previous year)














Study in the U.S. by Institution Type


Associate (2 year) Colleges


Baccalaureate (4 year) Colleges


Doctorate – granting Universities


Masters Colleges and Universities


Special Focus Institutions


Public Institutions


Private Institutions



Top 5 Study Destinations for South African Students in the U.S.

  • New York
  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania



The United States - South Africa Higher Education Network is a coalition of universities, foundations, and government agencies dedicated to building a brighter future by strengthening ties among our institutions of higher education.  U.S. community college Associates degrees are now recognized as an equivalent to the National Diploma in accordance with the South African Qualification Authority.

There are some South Africa government ministries that sponsor students or provide living stipends for study abroad in certain fields, namely, the Department of Agriculture and the National Arts Council.  Few private organizations fund scholarships to the U.S., but the National Research Foundation and First Rand Bank’s Laurie Dippenaar Scholarship have funded graduate students.


Most students in South Africa use social media platforms.  Social media has gained a lot of interest in the young population of the country and has become the go-to tool for disseminating information.  The most popular social media sites are: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Snapchat.  These are the same platforms used by in-country schools and competitor countries to reach and recruit students.  Facebook Live, YouTube, and Instagram are the most popular for streaming videos in South Africa.  When searching for information, students typically use the Google search engine and similar research tools.  






Sanjay Harryparshad, Commercial Specialist

U.S. Commercial Service – Johannesburg, South Africa

Phone: +27 71 685 8515