Top earning STEM degrees in South Africa for 2018

In our recent education-focused articles we have listed where South Africa’s top Universities ranked among other BRICS nations. Now we are looking at the top STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees in the country, and whether you should consider studying them if you want to pursue a career in that field.

We have compiled employment information based on the job search site Adzuna, where we looked at which degrees pay the most on average and how many jobs are being advertised in South Africa at the moment. The average salaries outlined in this story are correct at the time of writing.

With that in mind let us take a look at some of the highest paying professions nationally and what degrees you will need to earn in order to take them on as a career.

Chemical Engineering

You might consider this degree if you are interested in chemical reactions as it deals with the unique approaches of engineering and fundamental sciences such as chemistry, biochemistry, physics and mathematics.

A BEng in Chemical Engineering is required, with it taking three to four years depending on the institution. An undergraduate degree will earn you an entry level position in the job market.

The average salary is R603 999 per year depending on experience.

Civil Engineering

An alternative in the engineering field is civil, which is for those who are passionate about buildings and other large-scale structures. In this degree you will conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct and maintain infrastructure projects and systems.

You will need to obtain a BEng in Civil Engineering with the degree taking about four years to complete. This varies from institution to institution. Your bachelor’s degree will earn you an entry-level position.

Depending on experience the average salary is R577 579 per year.

Computer Science

This degree deals with the use of technology, computers and computational systems, where you’ll deal with software, software systems theory, design and development of applications.

What you will need is a BSc in Computer Science and Informatics. This course also includes information technology as one of its core subjects. In some institutions it’s a three-year course while in others it’s a four-year offering.

Your bachelors degree will earn you a junior position in the job market, with the average salary amounting to R546 259 per year, depending on experience and the qualification.

Information Technology

This degree deals with the use of any computers, storage, networking and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes as it pertains to technology and data.

The degree required for this field is a BSc in Information Technology, which is quite similar to computer science so you may decide if you want to major in computer science, information technology or information science.

This qualification will earn you an entry-level position with an average salary of R521 206 per year depending on qualification and experience.

Aeronautical Engineering

This degree might interest you if you love anything that has to do with aircraft. It focuses on designing, developing, testing and manufacturing commercial and military aircraft, missiles and spacecrafts.

In some institutions there is no direct course for Aeronautical Engineering, so you have to obtain your BEng in Mechanical Engineering which is three to four-year qualification depending on institution. Then three years work experience is required, as well as being registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as a candidate engineer.

The salary is R515 776 on average per year with it being a particularly scarce skill set in SA.


A common, but often overlooked profession in SA, becoming a pharmacist necessitates a BPharm bachelor’s degree. This can take up to four years, then a compulsory year of community service. You are not able to practice being a pharmacist until you are registered with the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC), along with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

You may choose to specialise in Community Pharmacy, Industrial Pharmacy or Academic Pharmacy.

The average salary is R507 978 per year.

Mechanical Engineering

You may consider this qualification if you have an interest in anything that has to do with complex mechanisms. This degree deals with designing power-producing machines, such as electrical generators, internal combustion engines, steam and gas turbines, as well as other machines such as large-scale refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

A BEng in Engineering degree is needed here, which may take up to four years. There are a vast number of specialisations you can do with this bachelor’s degree such as automation, gas turbines, nuclear and machine design just to name a few.

You will also need a three-year training period of postgraduate employment in the industry after which you can register as a Professional Engineering with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

The average salary is R507 619 per year.

Electrical Engineering

If you have a passion in electrical engineering, this degree will enable you to design and develop new electrical equipment, solve problems and test complex devices.

Said degree is a BEng in Electrical Engineering which may take up to four years. There are a vast number of specialisations you can choose from like Aerospace, Electronics, Energy and Medical Technology.

In your final year there may be up to  five compulsory courses you have to do which are Engineering Design, Engineering Laboratory and Systems Management. Same as Mechanical Engineering you need to be registered by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as a Professional Engineer.

The average salary is R505 425 per year.

Statistics and Mathematics

In this degree you will work with formulas and data to help solve problems in the industry and government. Daily tasks include analysing data and applying statistical techniques to help solve real world problems in business.

You will need to study a BSc in Mathematical Statistics where you may choose to specialise in Statistics, Mathematics, Analyst Monitoring and Evaluation just to name a few.

To obtain a bachelor’s degree in Statistics you will need to study a minimum of four years for entry-level position.

Once qualified in Statistics your average salary can amount to an average of R448 891 per year and R389 887 per year for Mathematics graduates.

Life Science

In this degree you will study life on the scientific scale, focusing on microorganisms, plants and animals including human beings.

You will need to obtain a BSc in Biomedical Science, which requires  studying a minimum of three years. From there you can specialise in environments such as grasslands, aquatic biology, ecology and the behaviour of diverse range of animals just to name a few.

Career wise there are many jobs you could do with this bachelor’s degree such as Applied Bioinformatics, Drug discovery, Molecular modelling, Biostatics and Biomechanics and more.

Here the salary range is R313 400.

South Africa’s need

We hope that all the students out there interested in the STEM fields have a better idea of what getting into their chosen profession will require, and how much it may earn them in future. With STEM skills sorely lacking locally, it’s an area that students should actively be preparing to enter.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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