Tracking South Africa’s progress toward the 28% attainment goal.

Qualification attainment is a key indicator in South Africa’s progress. Goal 2030 focuses on the proportion of South Africans aged 25-64 with a qualification from a public or private university, college or other post-school institution.

South Africa's attainment level was 17% in 2021 and needs to be 28% by 2030 to support the National Development Goals. In addition to tracking all post-school qualifications attained in the post-school system, Siyaphambili also tracks a subset of qualifications perceived as high value, namely diplomas, degrees or other more advanced qualifications.

Siyaphambili, moving forward together, is what we do in South Africa. Are we doing enough as a country, to reach our 28% goal?

Qualifications attained, 1994-2030

A slow, steady climb

Since South Africa transitioned to democracy in 1994, our attainment level has slowly and steadily increased, just short of doubling over 25 years from 9% to 17%. Diplomas, degrees and higher qualifications continue to represent three-quarters of post-school qualifications.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has indicated that now, more than ever, there is a need to skill and re-skill the nation to ensure a competitive labour market. Siyaphambili’s goal of 28% qualification attainment aligns with the president’s vision of creating 2 million jobs by 2030. Attainment will need to rapidly increase over the next decade to achieve this.

Highest qualification and Breakdown of any qualification, 1994-2021

The share of the 25-64 population with grade 9 or less has declined from 58% in 1994 to 25%, with only 2% having no education in 2021. Today, the bulk of the population (58%) will complete their education with grades 10-12. This group is academically eligible to continue their education in the post-school sector. Why are they stopping here? 

Factoring in inequalities

Deep inequalities persist in South Africa, a result of our apartheid past. Educational inequalities start early in the schooling system. More than half of learners enrolled in grade 1 will leave the schooling system before completing high school (grade 12). Many youths do not achieve the marks required to pursue university. Others face challenges while studying that prevent them from completing their chosen qualification.

Qualification attainment by sub-group, 1994-2021

Qualification attainment by population group

Post school qualification attainment levels vary starkly by population group, reflecting inequalities in access to education during apartheid. White attainment levels (47% in 2021) accord with those in the US, and are three times higher than attainment levels among Africans and Coloureds. Furthermore, although all population groups have seen an increase in the post-school qualification share since 1994, the growth has been 10 and 14 percentage points within the White and Indian population group and only 5 and 7 percentage points within the African and Coloured population groups. This has widened the gap in post-school attainment between groups. A goal of 28% qualification attainment highlights the need to address persistent structural challenges faced by historically underserved population groups.

Qualification attainment by gender

Women have slowly closed the post-school qualification gap and a higher proportion of women now have post-school qualifications than men. To meet the goal of 28% attainment by 2030, we need to understand the challenges men face that prevent them from keeping pace with their female counterparts. In addition, to continue to grow the share of women participating in post-school education, we need a better understanding of what is driving the gender wage gap. Women, including graduates, continue to be paid lower wages than men in the labour market.

Qualification attainment by age group

Attainment levels among 25-34 year olds (youth) is 1% lower than within the 35-64 age group, a result of delayed high school completion and post-school enrolment and completion. Increases in attainment have been driven by certificate qualification within the youth group, with the share with diplomas, degrees or higher remaining at around10.5% between 1994 and 2021. As a result, the post-school qualification gap between age groups has widened. Increasingly, youth are competing against a relatively more skilled older group. Increasing post-school attainment is an important way to boost youths’ prospects in the labour market. Racial and gender inequalities in qualification attainment are highest within the youth group and have widened over time. Understanding the barriers youth face to obtaining qualifications valued in the labour market is essential for us to meet Goal 2030.

Qualification attainment by province, 2021

Qualification attainment by province

As South Africa strives towards Goal 2030, all provinces need to do their part to contribute towards the country’s overall qualification attainment level. Levels of attainment vary across the provinces. Each province is uniquely characterised in terms of history, population density, urbanisation levels and economic opportunities, among other things. The economic centres, Gauteng and the Western Cape, have the highest share of residents holding a post-school qualification. While the share with diplomas, degrees or higher was similar in these two economic centres until 2007, Gauteng has since pulled ahead of the Western Cape. In 2021, 17% of Gauteng residents had high value qualifications compared to 15% of residents in the Western Cape. 

Diploma, Bachelors or Higher
Post school qualification

Provinces started out at different levels of qualification attainment at the dawn of democracy in 1994. Tracking the growth in qualification attainment since 1994 by province, a distinct convergence in attainment levels is evident among seven of the nine provinces. Attainment levels, and growth, are far higher in Gauteng and the Western Cape throughout the period, with over a third of individuals with a post-school qualification residing in Gauteng. 

Growth in qualification attainment by province

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    Interested in learning more about post-school education research in South Africa? View related research by the Siyaphambili Post-school Research Initiative in the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU).