South Africa is hard to beat when it comes to year-round sunshine, excellent wine and exhilarating landscapes. What’s more, South African universities are growing in quality and many are now internationally recognised as world class research centres.
These low cost, but high quality research facilities and the wealth of things to do in a country that offers everything from lush winelands, forests and lagoons, to the ‘Big Five’ safari animals, mean it comes as no surprise that this country is a welcome choice to study abroad. e to Russian PhD degrees, covering essentials like fees, funding, applications and visas.
If you’re considering a PhD in South Africa, this page provides all the information you need to know about the PhD in general, and how applications, funding and visas work.
South Africa is growing into the continent’s hub for PhDs, meaning that opportunities for students have never been better. The students in South Africa are spoilt by the diverse terrain, warm climate and magnificent wildlife. All of South Africa’s universities boast campuses in some of the most stunning locations on earth, with top class facilities to match.
South Africa certainly ticks a lot of boxes, and here are some more things to consider:
|Nobel Prize Winners||10|
|Oldest University||University of Cape Town (1829)|
|PhD Length||2-3 years|
|Typical Fees||R22,950-38,350 (USD $1,580-2,640)|
|Academic Year||February to December|
For the latest information on the impact of coronavirus on studying a PhD in South Africa, please check with your university for updates.
Want to know more about life for international PhD students in South Africa? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
There are 26 public universities in South Africa. These comprise of 12 traditional universities, eight ‘technikons’ offering technical and vocational courses, and six comprehensive universities, offering a combination of the above. These are all distributed within all nine provinces of South Africa, each of which has at least one university.
The main student hubs are the big cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, with the University of Cape Town being recognised as the highest rated institution in both South Africa and on the continent.
South Africa’s government is actively developing university research facilities across the country in a bid to attract more PhD students. This will increase the quality of research output and academic professionals in the industry. Many of the universities in South Africa are associated with these institutions and ‘mission groups’ as they share similar aims and objectives.
These groups include the follwoing:
A doctorate from a university associated with any of these government initiatives is impressive. As a PhD student, you require a research facility with the necessary expertise in the specialism you want to study.
The University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand are in the top 250 universities in the world. Whether it’s Biotechnology, African Development or Engineering, South Africa’s universities certainly have many specialist focus areas that attract PhD candidates to undertake their research there.
|University||THE 2021||QS 2021||ARWU 2020|
|University of Cape Town||=155||=220||201-300|
|University of the Witwatersrand||201-250||=403||201-300|
|University of KwaZulu-Natal||351-400||801-1000||501-600|
|Durban University of Technology||401-500||-||-|
|University of Johannesburg||601-800||=439||601-700|
|University of Pretoria||601-800||561-570||401-500|
|University of the Western Cape||601-800||-||-|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
Carrying out a PhD in South Africa will most likely be a highly collaborative experience. You will go where your research takes you, and there are many exciting cities to explore whilst you are there. .
The following are the main university cities in South Africa:
PhDs in South Africa generally follow a similar pattern to European and American programmes, but with the added bonus of becoming a wine connoisseur. They focus on the candidate completing a supervised thesis that adds original research and knowledge to a field of study.
The PhD will consist mainly of pure research and you will spend most of your time working towards an independent doctoral thesis, which will most likely begin with a lot of reading and writing a literature review, summarising and evaluating existing research related to your topic. Some South African PhDs also require coursework to be completed in addition to the main thesis, but this is less common.
Depending on your project, you will accumulate data by analysing source materials, producing experimental results or collecting survey data as appropriate. Throughout this process, you will liaise with your supervisor. You will most likely have at least one other supervisor, and they will both be a big part of your PhD experience.
South African PhDs generally take between two to three years to complete if you are in full-time study, with a minimum of 4 years if you are studying part-time. The course length does vary however, and this generally depends on time of registration and funding arrangements.
PhD programmes in South Africa require you to submit a written thesis at the end of your PhD. This is normally between 80,000-100,000 words. It is normal in South Africa for PhD candidates to give a written notice to their faculty at least two or three months before submitting their thesis for examination. This generally includes giving the title and a short overview of the thesis.
Once this notice is given, three examiners (internal and external) are appointed to examine your thesis. These examiners, or at least one of them, are also experts in your field.
For a South African PhD, it is not common to have a viva. This is an additional, oral examination, done in the UK and Europe, where the PhD candidate ‘defends’ their thesis in response to the examiners asking questions.
This is not the case in South Africa, and instead a written report is submitted outlining the examiners conclusions (and any changes or corrections that need to be done) and your PhD result.
International students studying in South Africa benefit from relatively cheap doctorate programmes compared to Europe and North America.
South African tuition fees vary widely between institutions and courses. International students are required to pay an international service fee of around of R4,000 (USD $275) and a registration fee of about R7,500 (USD $505).
PhD programme fees can vary from depending on the type of PhD programme (thesis only or coursework and thesis), the university and the subject area. For example, at Wits University, PhD programmes in Engineering are on average R30,030 (USD $2,070) per year and PhD programmes in Sciences are on average R22,740 (USD $1,565). PhD fees at the University of Cape Town are generally the same for all subjects, averaging at around R21,410 (USD $1,475) per year.
All international students are also expected to pay an international fee of about R54,000 (USD $3,600) on top of their tuition fee.
International students are not eligible for support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – the South African student loan and bursary scheme. Bursaries and scholarships are available to international PhD students and are offered by universities and external organisations.
The first step for your South African PhD application should be to contact a prospective supervisor (universities will not normally consider applications from international students who haven’t done this).
The person you choose should normally be the lead researcher for a project or research group you wish to join, or an academic with research interests related to the topic you would like to propose.
Once you’ve found a potential supervisor, you should contact them via email. Try to provide a clear and concise description of your project or interests – and make the relationship to their research obvious.
Once you have an expression of interest from a potential supervisor, you can begin your formal application to the university.
To apply for a PhD in South Africa, you will require an existing Bachelors and usually a Masters degree in a related subject. In special circumstances, a candidate without a Masters may be accepted. There is an application fee of R300 ($20).
Individual universities will set their own requirements, but in general, you can expect to be asked for some or all of the following:
Once your PhD application has been reviewed, the university may wish to interview you. This is a good sign, as your prospective supervisor thinks you have potential, and it’s also a great way to show yourself off!
Don’t worry though – they will not expect you to travel all the way to South Africa for just an interview. As an international student, this will most likely be done via a video-conferencing platform.
Deadlines for PhD applications vary in South Africa. While some deadlines are in August or September, some universities have PhD programmes that are open to apply all year round. It is also important to take into account any deadlines that you may have if you are applying to funding.
You can check for specific dates with your chosen institute and if you are in touch with your prospective supervisor, you can always ask them.
Remember that, even if there isn't a deadline, your application will still take time. As a general rule, you should apply at least four months before you hope to start your PhD.
South African study permits are issued for a programme of study at a specific institution. Once accepted by a South African university, international students are required to obtain a study visa to do their PhD in South Africa. To apply for this student visa, you need to complete the BI-1738 form .
In order to qualify for a visa to study a PhD in South Africa you’ll normally need the following documents:
You can check out South African Department of Home Affairs for more information on student visas.
South African PhDs are organised and delivered in English, so you will need to have sufficient language skills and be able to comprehend complex information and communicate ideas for your PhD.
For international students for whom English is a second language, an English language test must be taken. The most recognised English language tests will be accepted. The score you need will depend on the test you take and the minimum requirements set by your specific university.
The South African government states that in order to obtain a student visa, the student must have adequate medical cover with a registered South African medical scheme and provide evidence for this when applying for the visa. A letter confirming that this health insurance will be renewed every year during the duration of your stay is also required. You can see the list of registered medical aid schemes in South Africa to check if your medical cover is recognised by the South African Department of Home Affairs.
You can carry out paid work for up to 20 hours per week whilst researching for your PhD in South Africa. However, you should check that any work you undertake fits with the requirements of your PhD (and the expectations of your supervisor).
The standard cost of a South African Student Visa is ZAR R500 (USD $34). Processing times can vary, and can take up to three to four weeks.
With internationally recognised universities and research capabilities, a South African PhD can translate into career opportunities all over the world.
International students who are awarded their PhD from a South African university can apply for a critical skills work visa (a five-year temporary residence visa) which includes a 12-month period to secure a job. After the end of the five years, they can apply for permanent residence.
Last updated - 23/10/2020