The Legal Context of Higher Education in South Africa

The Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF)

In June 2009, the Minister of Education signed into effect the new HEQF. The HEQF aims to determine the qualification types, characteristics and purposes of all higher education qualifications in South Africa. It replaces all other higher education legislation and governs the entire education sector in South Africa (public and private institutions). Southern Business School, as a registered Private Higher Education institution under the Higher Education Act, 1997, is subject to the provisions of the HEQF.

The HEQF consists of 10 levels, of which higher education1 has a minimum of 120 credits and could take you at least a year of full-time study in a higher education institution. are on levels 5 to 10. The lowest higher education qualification available is the Higher Certificate (at level 5) and the highest is the Doctorate or PhD (at level 10).

Quick reference to the HEQF

Qualification name Exit level Min total credits Credits2 at exit level / other Minimum entrance requirements*
Higher Certificate 5 120 Minimum 120 @ level 5 A NSC.
Advanced Certificate 6 120 Minimum 120 @ level 6 Higher Certificate in appropriate field.
Diploma 6 360 Minimum @ level 7: 60; Maximum @ level 5: 120 NSC but with achievement rating of 3 (40-49%) or better in four recognised subjects OR Higher Certificate or Advanced Certificate in cognate field.
Advanced Diploma 7 120 Minimum @ level 7: 120 An appropriate Diploma or Bachelor's degree.
Bachelor's degree (not professional) 7 360 Minimum @ level 7: 120; Maximum @ level 5: 96 NSC but with achievement rating of 4 in four recognised subjects.
Bachelor Honours degree 8 120 Minimum @ level 8: 120; Must include 30 credit “conducting and reporting research under supervision”. Appropriate Bachelor's degree.
Postgraduate Diploma 8 120 Minimum @ level 8: 120; Project may include “conducting and reporting research under supervision”. Appropriate Bachelor's degree.
Master's Degree 9 180 Minimum @ level 9: 120 Relevant Bachelor's (Hons) degree, or Professional Bachelor's degree with min 96 credits @ level 8, or Postgraduate Diploma
PhD; Doctorate 10 360 Minimum @ level 10: 360 Appropriate Master's degree

*Entry to a qualification is not automatic. Institutions are permitted to add entry requirements or to determine selection for their qualifications as they deem appropriate. RPL3 admissions remain possible under the HEQF.

The Importance of Regulatory Bodies in terms of the HEQF

The HEQF applies to both private and public institutions. In terms of the HEQF institutes of higher learning must interact with SAQA, the HEQC, and the CHE in order to satisfy the requirements of these regulatory bodies. SAQA sets standards that need to be adhered to and registers an institution's qualifications. The HEQC of the CHE has the responsibility for quality assurance in higher education. The CHE is assigned the responsibility for the generation and setting of standards for all higher education qualifications and for ensuring that such qualifications meet SAQA’s criteria for registration on the NQF.

The main advantage of these requirements for the higher education system in South Africa is that quality is maintained at an acceptable level across a variety of institutions. Other benefits include:

  • Ensuring that institutions meet strict quality requirements;
  • the student is protected against unscrupulous and exploitative operators;
  • students obtain qualifications that are aligned with the NQF, and;
  • the education system meets the goals of transforming South Africa, in accordance with government policy and legislation.
  1. 1. A higher education programme is one that is at level 5 and above on the NQF. The NQF is a comprehensive system approved by the Minister of Education for the amalgamation of national qualifications.
  2. 2. In simple terms, credits can be defined as a collective volume of learning required for a qualification in terms of the minimum number of credits required at specific exit levels of the NQF.
  3. 3. Recognition of prior learning means the comparison of the previous learning and experience of a learner howsoever obtained against the learning outcomes required for a specified qualification, and the acceptance for purposes of qualification of that which meets the requirements.
HEQF as Gazetted on 5 Oct 2007 (pdf)770.09 KB
Combined CHE, DoE and SAQA FAQs on the HEQF (pdf)75.74 KB