How government has changed the minimum entry requirements for a Bachelor’s degree since 2005

The requirements for getting into a Bachelor’s degree made headlines recently after new standards were confirmed by the department of higher education.

The new minimum requirements are:

  • A National Senior Certificate (Matric).
  • 30% in the language of instruction of the higher education institution.
  • 50% in four 20-credit NSC subjects.

Many South Africans commented on how low the requirements are, and that students will not be prepared for university if they achieve these marks.

To see how admission requirements for a Bachelor’s degree have changed in recent years, we looked at what the department required in 2005 compared to today.


August 2005

In August 2005, the admission requirements were:

  • A National Senior Certificate
  • Achieve 50% or better in four subjects chosen from the 20-credit NSC subject list.

This list is shown below.

  • Accounting
  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Business Studies
  • Dramatic Arts
  • Economics
  • Engineering Graphics and Design
  • Geography
  • History
  • Consumer Studies
  • Information Technology
  • Languages (Home/Additional)
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematical Literacy
  • Music
  • Physical Sciences
  • Religion Studies
  • Visual Arts

July 2008

In July 2008, the department of higher education posted an update to the entry requirements. They were:

  • A National Senior Certificate.
  • 30% minimum in the language of learning and teaching of the higher education institution.
  • Achieve 50% or better in four subjects chosen from the 20-credit NSC subject list.

The subjects were:

  • Accounting
  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Business Studies
  • Dramatic Arts
  • Economics
  • Engineering Graphics and Design
  • Geography
  • History
  • Consumer Studies
  • Information Technology
  • Languages (Home/Additional)
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematical Literacy
  • Music
  • Physical Sciences
  • Religion Studies
  • Visual Arts

November 2018

The latest update, from November 2018, changed the requirements by removing the designated list of subjects.

This effectively made all 20-credit subjects offered in matric have equal status – excluding Life Orientation.

The requirements are:

  • A National Senior Certificate.
  • 30% minimum in the language of learning and teaching of the higher education institution.
  • Achieve 50% or better in four subjects.

The real problem

While the removal of the accredited subject list is a major change, education experts have pointed to the matric exams themselves as the real problem in preparing learners for university.

Former University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen famously said in 2017 that “passing Grade 12 in South Africa is actually quite easy, and it means very little“, as exams are too easy.

They do not not test students as they should, he added. Jansen has also lambasted the state of maths and science education in the country, calling it very poor.

MyBroadband also recently reported on the state of matric maths exams, where high school maths teachers have stated that the difficulty is lower than in previous years.

These sentiments were echoed by HOD of the Wits School of Mathematics Professor Betsie Jonck, who stated that students are entering universities underprepared.

“The old [Higher Grade] did a much better job,” said Jonck. “The curriculum is wide, but not deep enough.”


Pushing learners through matric

Compounding the problem of easier matric exams is the progression systems implemented by the department of education.

From 2019, supplementary exams for matrics who failed will take place in June instead of March.

The department said this will give learners enough time for revision.

It added that “this will also allow learners the opportunity to rewrite as many subjects as they want, as opposed to the current two subjects allowed”.

Learners who fail the same grade repeatedly before matric in South Africa are also often pushed through to the next year, despite not achieving the required marks.

For the class of 2016, for example, over 100,000 learners were “progressed pupils”.


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How government has changed the minimum entry requirements for a Bachelor’s degree since 2005