Can’t attend university? No problem! There are other ways to succeed

Published Nov 3, 2020


As thousands of matric learners across the country start writing their final exams, many are wondering what their next steps will be.

After surviving one of the most challenging academic years in decades, matriculants will also be entering one of the toughest job markets of our time. The impact of Covid-19 on the economy has seen South Africa’s expanded unemployment rate rise to 42%.

Now more than ever, the decision that learners make after completing their school career is critical to their career prospects. While many opt for university, there is an ever-growing list of alternatives for learners who don’t want to go to university, who can’t afford it, or who don’t qualify.

There are also options for those who don’t manage to complete matric. This is not the time to be disheartened about the future, this is the time for adaptation, innovation and hope.

Understanding the NQF

With a Grade 10, 11 or 12 qualification learners can move upwards in the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels.

In South Africa, the NQF is the system used to measure levels of learning. There are ten NQF levels and they fall into three categories: General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Sub-Framework, Higher Educational Qualifications Sub-framework, and the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework. The ten levels are:

Academic Route

Vocational/Skills Route

NQF level 1

General Education Certificate: Grades 4 to 9


NQF level 2

Grade 10

National (vocational) Certificate level 2 and NATED 1

NQF level 3

Grade 11

National (vocational) Certificate level 3 and NATED 2

NQF level 4

National Senior Certificate Grade 12

National (vocational) Certificate level 4 and NATED 3

NQF level 5

Higher Certificate

Higher Certificates and Advanced National (vocational) Cert.

N4 – N6

NQF level 6

National Diploma and Advanced Certificate

National Diplomas and Advanced Certificates

NQF level 7

Bachelor’s degree, Advanced Diploma, Postgraduate Certificates

NQF level 8

Honours Degree & Postgraduate Diploma

NQF level 9

Master’s Degree

NQF level 10

Doctorate Degree

Understanding these levels and how they work can help learners to find vacancies for which they’re qualified. Achieving the next NQF level also doesn’t necessarily involve going to university. Many of these qualifications can be achieved through distance learning (something today’s learners are familiar with), adult education and training institutions, or through technical and vocational education and training colleges.

Learners can start by looking at the fields that are most in-demand today, and assess whether their interests fit these fields of study before exploring how they might go about completing the next NQF level.

Moving through the ranks

According to recent reports, applicants with skills in business management, accounting, office administration and information technology (IT) have continued to be among the most in-demand during 2020.

School leavers looking to enter the business management and accounting space might be interested in working with the well-regarded Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB). Many of the ICB’s courses don’t require a matric but can provide learners with an NQF level 6 qualification, which is higher than a matric.

For example, learners might consider starting with an ICB foundation level national certificate in bookkeeping which, upon completion, results in a recognised National Certificate. They can then work their way up from there, through another three levels, to achieve a National Diploma in Financial Accounting.

Other options

Currently, there is a severe shortage of artisans in SA, there are several options in this space that learners might want to consider as well. National trade courses in essential career paths such as boiler making, welding, fitting and turning, electrical and motor trade — all critical for engineering-related fields — can help learners to gain a foothold in the current market. These qualifications are known as N1, N2 and N3 qualifications, and enable learners to apply to a college to complete a Higher National Diploma afterwards.

Learners might also consider looking into specialised accredited courses or working through College SA’s programmes.

It’s important that learners know that there are alternatives to university. In a world that is constantly changing, traditional educational routes aren’t the only answer.

Think creatively, and watch as different career options open up.

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