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Going Overseas for a Postgraduate Degree

Studying in South Africa for a Postgraduate Degree

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Studying in South Africa for a Postgraduate Degree in Computer Science

A Guide for South African Students and International Students


  1. Introduction
  2. Masters or PhD?
  3. Local or Abroad?


For many students, studying in a developed country at a university with a strong graduate programme is a first choice, but several South African universities have growing strength in graduating students with research higher degrees. The purpose of this document is to help you decide which path to take, not to promote one or other university. The initial version of this document contains a few pointers; expect more information in later versions.

Masters or PhD?

In much of the rest of the world, PhD entry is on the basis of a good 4-year degree, ideally with a research component. If you are targeting a region where a Masters is required, doing one in South Africa is a good idea, as the costs are likely to be far lower than in a developed country, and a South African Masters at one of the country's better universities is likely to be of a higher standard than that in many developed countries. If you want to do a PhD in South Africa, most universities require a Masters for entry, though some have an option to covert a Masters registration to a PhD if it goes well. On the whole this is not a great route to go, as the initial phases of a Masters should be targeting defining a smaller project than a PhD. You can end up with one of two bad scenarios: you define something too big for a Masters, and don't get upgraded to the PhD programme, or you define something too small for a PhD, and have to redo the project plan extensively. If you do the Masters plus PhD combination, choose a very well-defined project for the Masters than you can easily complete in the minimum time. A research Masters generally only requires "acquaintance with the methods of research", not highly original results.

Local or Abroad?

The issues you need to consider are a combination of personal and academic:

  • do you want to broaden your horizons?
    • if you're South African, a "yes" implies you may be interested in overseas study
    • if not, a "yes" may imply you want to leave your comfort zone to study in South Africa
  • does studying in South Africa provide you an opportunity to make the most of developing your skills?
  • is there someone in South Africa with a research track record in the area that interests you?
  • are you able to secure funding for your ideal study destination?

In addition to these points, you need to think about where your studies will take you. If you want to be an academic, a PhD is only a start. You also need to think about postdoc opportunities, and there is the potential to do the PhD and the postdoc in different countries, provided your research output during your PhD is good enough to attract the attention of someone with funding.

South Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive option for students from the rest of Africa, with its relatively low costs compared with Europe and the US, though the latter two regions can offer a great experience to those who win a fully-funded scholarship.