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Engineering Qualification: Diplomas Versus Degrees

by Hannah Maidment

Choosing whether to pursue a diploma or a degree in engineering can be a tricky decision. This article will tell you everything you need to know about getting an engineering qualification. 

Engineering is known to be tough, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s worth it. In terms of a career path, engineering ticks a lot of boxes: it comes with high pay, status, gives you an opportunity to change the world and it sets you up for success in your professional career.

There are two main engineering qualifications — degrees and diplomas. Any engineering qualification is mathematics-intensive and has a considerable practical component as compared to other degrees. These qualifications equip you with a skill set that makes you valuable in a wide variety of fields, like business and finance, not just in engineering. If you are toying with the idea of pursuing a career in engineering, you might want to consider which of these qualifications is best suited for you.  

Here are some of the biggest differences between a degree and diploma in engineering:

Engineering Qualification: Entrance Requirements

To pursue any kind of qualification in engineering, you will need to have a relatively strong background in maths and science. The advantage of applying to study an engineering diploma is that you don’t need a traditional matric certificate to apply. You are just as qualified to apply with a technical certificate (or N3 certificate). If you have no matric at all, you are also not out of options. Many tertiary institutions offer bridging certificates for students with a Grade 9 qualification or higher. 

The entrance requirements for each of these qualifications are as follows:

  • Bridging Certificates

There are three engineering certificates that you can get before applying to study engineering, the N1 certificate, for which you will require grade 9 with maths and science, the N2 certificate, for which you will have to have completed the N1 certificate. In order to study towards the N3 certificate, you will have to have successfully completed the N1 and N2 certificates.

  • Engineering Diploma
    • N3 Certificate in Engineering Studies OR
    • National Senior Certificate (Grade 12) with Pure Mathematics
  • Engineering Degree
    • National Senior Certificate (Grade 12)
    • English or Afrikaans (60-70%)
    • Pure Mathematics (70-80%)
    • Physical Sciences (70-80%)


A degree in engineering will take you four to five years to complete, depending on the intensity of the course. A diploma in engineering will take you two years to complete full-time, and three years part-time. After you achieve your diploma in engineering, you are required to complete two years of in-service training before you are fully qualified in your field.

Place of Study:

In South Africa, engineering degrees are only offered by universities. A diploma in engineering, however, can be attained at several different types of institutions, including: 

  • TVET Colleges
  • Universities of technology
  • Private tertiary institutions


Universities in South Africa are, as we know, rather expensive. Because of this and the fact that an engineering degree takes longer to achieve than an engineering diploma, a degree in engineering is considerably more expensive than a diploma. You are also often able to study a diploma part-time, especially at private institutions and technical colleges. This means that if you are doing a diploma you might be able to get a part-time job that will help you contribute towards your tuition.

Nature of Course:

Engineering degrees, while including a huge practical component, that you will have to pass to get your degree, are typically more theoretical in nature. Engineering diplomas often have a lot more focus on the practical components of the engineering industry. If you are studying towards a diploma, your course work will be a lot more “hands-on. 

Because of the highly practical nature of engineering diplomas, you are able to qualify in much more specialised fields. This means that you are qualified to do a specific job and so makes you very competitive in that field. You are able to qualify in a wide range of fields, including mechanical, chemical, civil and electrical engineering. You are also able to study further for one year after completing your engineering diploma in order to obtain a BTech degree. This qualification enables you to register as a professional engineering technician and will open up even more career opportunities.

Level of Qualification:

All qualifications in South Africa are ranked on the South African National Qualification Framework (NQF). Below is a breakdown of these rankings:

NQF Rating



Grade 9
(National Technical Certificate Level 1)


Grade 10
(National Technical Certificate Level 2)


Grade 11
(National Technical Certificate Level 3)


Grade 12
(National Senior Certificate and National Technical Certificate Level 4)


Higher Certificates and Advanced National Technical Certificates

National Diploma and Advanced Certificates


Bachelor’s Degree


Honours Degree


Master’s Degree



Level of Engineering Qualification:

As you can see, an engineering diploma is only an NQF level 6, where a degree is an NQF level 7. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two qualifications. However, it doesn’t mean that the diploma is the worst option. You should take all of the factors into account when trying to decide which qualification is best for you.

Employment Opportunities:

Typically, higher level engineering positions require you to have a degree, so you will be able to work as a professional engineer in your chosen field. However, a diploma allows you to work in a number of specialised positions and you will already have a lot of practical experience that you can apply in your work. If you have an engineering diploma, you are able to do a wide variety of jobs, such as electrical work or working as a diesel mechanic.

Central Technical College 

If you are considering pursuing a diploma in engineering, you might want to give Central Technical College (CTC) a look. CTC offers a wide range of qualifications – including the courses you will need to complete before you can study your diploma, if you do not have your matric certificate or the equivalent. 

CTC offers part-time and full-time courses. The part-time courses have a duration of three years, and the classes take place on Saturdays. The full-time programmes only take two years and classes take place during the week. After you have achieved your qualification, you will also have to complete two years of in-service training.

 CTC offers National N Diplomas in each of the following fields: 

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

At CTC you will cover a range of topics, including Mathematics, Engineering Science and Industrial Orientation. In both a practical and academic sense. This ensures that you will be well equipped to take your first step towards an exciting and successful career.

When choosing which qualification you should pursue, you shouldn’t think about which qualification is better. Ultimately the decision should be based on which qualification suits you, your skillset and your circumstances. Making a decision based on these factors will give you the best chance to ensure your success in the engineering industry.

EduConnect 2Cents

Engineering qualifications are challenging and have huge problem-solving components. This means that with an engineering qualification you are sought after in a wide variety of fields, not just engineering. Financial institutions, for example, love recruiting engineers because of their exceptional mathematical abilities and problem-solving skills. Studying engineering doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to work in the engineering field; it opens up doors to a wide range of interesting careers.

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