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Higher Education VS Further Education

by Hannah Maidment

Do you want to know what the difference between higher education and further education is? Here is a breakdown of the main differences between the two.

In South Africa, education is divided into three levels. The first level, GET, goes up to grade 9. What we understand as a Matric student is part of the FET phase of education. University, Universities of Technology and Colleges are part of the HET level. We will see that the FET phase of education, what we normally understand as Gr 10 – Gr 12, can already be the start of preparation for a career. Let’s start with a more detailed description of the various levels.

Three bands of the South African education system: 

  1. General Education and Training (GET) runs from grade 0 to grade 9. GET is, according to the Bill of Rights of South Africa’s Constitution, a right, and should be made available and accessible by the state.
  2. Further Education and Training (FET) usually takes place from grade 10 to grade 12, however, career-orientated and technical education and training offered at FET (TVET) colleges is also included in this band.
  3. The third, and final, band is Higher Education and Training (HET), or tertiary education. This band includes both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, diplomas and certificates. The highest level of tertiary education is a doctoral, or terminal, degree.

Both FET and Higher Education follow your GET guidelines. But further than that, they have very clear distinctions — that will be broken down in the next few paragraphs. To help you understand how the levels of qualification differ, here is a breakdown of the National Qualification Framework (NQF).

NQF RatingQualification
1Grade 9 (National Technical Certificate Level 1)
2Grade 10 (National Technical Certificate Level 2)
3Grade 11 (National Technical Certificate Level 3)
4Grade 12 (National Senior Certificate and National Technical Certificate Level 4)
5Higher Certificates and Advanced National Technical Certificates
6National Diploma and Advanced Certificates
7Bachelor’s Degree
8Honours Degree
9Master’s Degree

There are a few differences between FET and HET education, which will be explained below. It is important to keep your needs and goals in mind when reading this and deciding which is best for you. 

Further Education and Training (FET)

FET is a pretty broad category that includes both the traditional academic qualification of the National Senior Certificate (NSC), which is awarded upon the successful completion of Matric, and the vocational and technical qualifications awarded by TVET colleges. In 2014, FET colleges were renamed to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. South Africa has about 50 public TVET colleges that offer a huge range of technical and vocational training. 

In general, an FET qualification is one that is of a NQF level 2-4. It offers the traditional academic curriculum (culminating in an NSC) as well as a range of vocational modules. TVET training, or the vocational modules, focus on giving the student education and training they would need in order to carry out specific range of jobs. Under certain conditions, an FET qualification can make one eligible to apply to study further in their field at a university of technology. The length of TVET courses and their admission criteria vary greatly because of the wide range of these courses offered.

Other than your conventional matric, which allows you to pursue higher education, FET qualifications are often better suited to those who are more “hands-on” and more technical than academic. TVET colleges are often extremely suitable for those who are unable to finish matric for any number reasons. With TVET colleges you are able to study most of the courses part-time. Upon completion of these courses you will have the skills necessary to apply for a job that will allow you to support yourself or contribute to supporting your family.

Higher Education and Training (HET)

Higher Education and Training (HET), or tertiary education, includes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and diplomas — typically of NQF level 5 or higher. To be eligible to study at a tertiary level you will need to have obtained your Matric certificate successfully (your NSC). For many tertiary courses there will be other admission requirements on top of your NSC. In some special cases you may be able to consider continuing with your vocational training at this level after completing your FET qualification. This means that if you complete the necessary subjects, you are able to study towards a diploma in your chosen field.

South Africa boasts 23 higher education institutions that are funded by the government. At these institutions you are able to study towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in a wide range of academic fields.

 Higher education is more academic in nature and the work will become more theoretical than practical as the levels progress. Higher education is suited to people who are interested in a more academically intensive qualification that can lead to a professional qualification in some disciplines such as engineering and law. However, as the qualifications from FET to HET are vocationally oriented, fulfilling career opportunities is a possibility for anyone who has obtained a qualification.


ICESA, is a private college that offers courses in both the Higher Education and Further Education and Training bands. With four campuses in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, ICESA will give you all of the training and resources you will need to start your career.

ICESA is registered with both the Department of Higher Education and Training and Umalusi and offers courses that are recognised across South Africa. They offer both part-time and full-time courses so that you are able to study in a way that suits you. ICESA offers a wide range of qualifications for you to choose from so that you are able to study something that best suits your abilities, interests and ambitions. With highly qualified and experienced educators, free academic and career guidance and well equipped facilities, ICESA has everything you need to kickstart your career.

Higher education follows further education, but this doesn’t mean that if you aren’t able to pursue an HET qualification you are not able to carry out a successful and fulfilling career. Not everyone is able to pursue higher education, but there is a world of wonderful career opportunities for someone who has completed an FET qualification.

EduConnect 2Cents 

If you want to pursue a higher education qualification after your FET course you might it will be necessary to also take two approved languages. This will make it possible to convert your National Certificate into a Technical Matric. It is a government requirement for anyone who wishes to pursue a tertiary education to have completed two languages at the FET level. This will make you more eligible to apply to study at a university of technology. If you still wish to study a university degree, you may be able to do this after you achieve your diploma, depending on the diploma and the university course. Generally, you are also able to study for an extra year after completing your diploma in order to convert it to a BTech, which is equivalent to a university degree.

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