Listen to the article now
When you’re finishing school and trying to decide what to do with the rest of your life, you often get bombarded with options and information. This makes it difficult to keep track of what is best for you. This includes the types of higher education available. There are 26 public South African institutions (see the full list of USAf website) that can be split into three different groups:
- Traditional University (11): Traditional universities in South Africa generally offer more theoretical-based training.
- University of Technology (9): Universities of technology in South Africa are sometimes called technikons and offer their students vocational-oriented programs.
- Comprehensive University (6): Comprehensive universities in South Africa are a combination of both types of training that technical and traditional universities offer.
Whichever one you choose, we are here to ensure that your decision is free from prejudice and replaced with facts. Like with many things in life, there are often misconceptions about universities of technologies and typically, traditional universities and universities of technology offer similar qualifications, ranging from Higher certificates, right up to doctoral degrees.
The distinguishing factor is that universities of technology focus on technology, innovation and offer technological career-oriented educational programmes. They engage with the industry to produce innovative problem-solving research. Many of the programmes offered include work-integrated learning/practical training that requires students to complete a structured programme while working in an organization. In other words, you’re required to complete in-service training or an internship. The main difference with traditional universities is that they do not put the same emphasis on the practical aspects of their qualifications (i.e. although some university degrees are very practical intensive). Therefore, they are pretty big on theoretical training and academic research within specialized fields.
With the following statements, we challenge all the prejudices of universities of techologies:
1. Universities of Technology are less prestigious than Traditional Universities
This is false. There is indeed a form of elitist perception that society has been conditioned to believe about traditional universities as opposed to universities of technologies. Many universities and academics may choose to maintain this perception rather than dispel but it is up to you to base your choices on your chosen career path and not be influenced by prejudices. For instance, if you have chosen a more technical career like IT, you might want to study at a university of technology. This does not make your qualification “less prestigious”, if anything, it makes you practically prepared for the world of work.
2. The level of qualification at a Traditional University is better than at a University of Technology.
The qualifications are not “better”, they are just “different”. They are incomparable because although they are both institutions of higher learning, they’re aimed at serving different purposes. Typically, universities of technology offer national diplomas, which are NQF level 6. This differs from bachelor’s degrees offered at traditional universities, which are NQF level 7. There are cases, however, where you study for an extra year in order to obtain a BTech degree, which is also NQF level 7. Please see the South African Qualifications Authority (i.e. SAQA) guide below which shows the NQF (i.e. National Qualifications Framework) Levels for the different levels of study.
3. The fees offered at the University of Technology are cheaper than Traditional Universities.
This is generally true. Please note that like any other university, the fees offered at the university of technology are expensive. However, in comparison to traditional universities, the fees are moderately cheaper.
4. Universities of technology are more technical-based.
Universities of technology prepare you to go into your chosen field as an expert technician or artisan. So they focus on becoming more technically qualified within your chosen field. The emphasis is on practical skills while traditional universities are more theoretical.