Financial Planner  |  GAP Maynard

The cost of tertiary education: What’s the plan for your kids?


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Giles Maynard  |  Financial Advisor  |  Johannesburg

October 1 2021

Education costs represent a considerable portion of most families’ incomes and require careful planning and management.

Further to the additional financial pressures brought on by the global pandemic, the cost of school tuition fees in South Africa has continued to soar over the last decade, with no sign of slowing.

As parents navigate uncertainty around job security and market movements, it’s possible that within the next 18 years, access to a formal education will not be possible for children belonging to the average South African family.

Right now, incomes generally grow at roughly the same rate as inflation, which is around 3-4%. However, the cost of education is growing at a much higher rate of approximately 6-7% a year.

According to StatsSA, in 2020:

Primary school fees increased by 7,3%
High schools tuition increased by 7,6%
Fees for tertiary education institutions climbed by 4,7%

Public or private institutions differ, but this report estimates that if you enrolled your child in grade R in 2017, you could expect to have paid between R1.3m and R3m by 2033 — the time it would have taken them to obtain a university degree.

Aside from purchasing a home, a child’s education is likely to be one of the most expensive investments most parents will ever make in their lifetime.

However, in saying this, it is entirely possible to ensure that your children get an education, and a good one at that, provided you plan ahead and make financial provisions as early as possible.


In my experience, tertiary education remains a significant concern for parents (and students), not just regarding affordability, but the calibre of academia offered within the country.

Currently, there are 26 universities in South Africa. The question is, though, whether the overall quality of our local institutions is as good as it used to be.

It’s a tough question to answer. Many of these have changed and evolved over the years, but generally, South African qualifications from accredited universities are internationally recognised.

Back when I was a student, I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Cape Town (UCT), which was and still is regarded as one of the best in the country.

Looking globally, Times Higher Education recently published its annual ranking of the world’s top universities for 2022, listing 11 of our local universities among them.

Interestingly, while UCT topped local rankings as the best university in South Africa, its position slid down 28 places from 2021. Wits University also dropped, falling out of the 201-250 bracket and into the 251-300 bracket along with Stellenbosh University.

The only university to move up the rankings is the University of South Africa (Unisa), which climbed from the 1001+ bracket to the 801-1000 bracket.

All other local universities remained within their respective brackets.

It’s no secret that prominent universities in South Africa cost more, but according to this recent data, on average, the first year of university can cost around R 64 200. This is expected to rise to R107 600 by 2025 and as much as R165 600 by 2030.

To give an example of first-year undergrad tuition fees, here‘s a general breakdown from my old stomping ground of UCT in 2021 (excluding textbooks and living expenses):

LLB: R 63 300
BCom: R 66 280 to R 84 760
BSc Eng (Civil): R 70 490
Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Social Science: R 62 240

Take a look at what you can expect to pay at Stellies, and these are the prescribed costs for distance learning through Unisa in 2022.

Each institution differs, and fees are also generally charged per module chosen.

national colleges and universities

If you or your children are considering a university abroad, you’ll be looking at fees much, much higher than what you would pay locally.

Again, tuition fees vary across schools and courses and largely depend on the country you choose to study in, but what’s important to note is that international students generally pay more.

Suppose you want to start from the top to get a better idea of costs. In that case, this article offers a comprehensive overview of what domestic and international students would pay at the 10 top universities in the world.

According to this information, the annual tuition fee for undergraduates in 2022 at the top university in the world, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), stands at a whopping US$55,450 (just over R800 000) per year.

Now this is by no means an accurate representation of all international institutions. Still, it’s important to stay informed and thoroughly understand what these fees look like in order to set realistic financial goals regarding your children’s education.

If you haven’t started doing some research already, start now. Make it a habit to evaluate the options each year and keep abreast of fee changes, especially as universities and colleagues do evolve and adapt their curricula.

Virtual education isn’t groundbreaking news, but Covid-19 has led to an increase in the use of distance learning, a concept likely to gain a stronger foothold within local institutions. And if your child has a particular aptitude for academics, sport or artistic talent, it’s also worth investigating exchange programmes, bursaries and scholarships to alleviate financial pressure.

Plan ahead financially

To put it bluntly, sending your children to the best schools or preparing them to embark on life beyond high school is guaranteed to become a significant financial hurdle. 

You’re inevitably going to have to make more room in the budget and consider setting up a savings or investment strategy that aligns with your short-, medium- and long-term goals. 

These goals can also change over time. For example, paying for your child’s secondary or tertiary education would be a long-term goal when they’re in nappies but a short-term one when they’re in the final year of high school.

Wherever you are right now in that timeline, my advice is to start now. 

It’s better to be prepared early on for a range of scenarios rather than having to call your teenage child into the living room to tell them that getting a tertiary education is simply not on the cards. 

If this all seems overwhelming, especially within the current economic climate, remember, you (and your spouse or partner) don’t have to figure this out all on your own. Fortunately, there is a whole pool of professionals who can step in to help you plan ahead. 

I’ve been working alongside parents for most of my career, supporting moms and dads across the country navigate the challenges of providing for their children and loved ones.

Experienced wealth experts like myself can guide you in discovering several ways to make it much easier to save, preserve and grow your wealth to provide for your children’s education. 

To do this, I always take a holistic approach. I evaluate wealth portfolios in their entirety to ensure that my clients can take advantage of untapped opportunities, manage potential risks, and anticipate challenges while remaining debt-free. 

If you want to ensure your child has access to quality schooling to be given the best chance at succeeding later in life, please get in touch and let’s see how we can make that happen.  

I’m Giles Maynard, a professional financial advisor. I provide individual investment and wealth management services for private clients and companies. I’ve been trusted by clients, large and small to manage, protect, and preserve wealth. How can I help you with yours?