Tertiary studies: Don’t sign up to a scam college

In an interview with The Citizen, Peter Kriel, General Manager of the Independent Institute of Education of South Africa, supported Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande’s call for students not to fall prey to bogus colleges. Reports indicate that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has already identified nearly 100 fraudulent private institutions operating in South Africa.

DHET spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi says: ‘These colleges use a range of methods to mislead the public. The recent trends identified by the department are online operators committing internet fraud by purporting to offer degrees in 15 days, using the name and logo of the DHET. Most of the websites appear to be based in the United States and the United Kingdom.’

Kriel says that ensuring institutions and qualifications are above board by doing the relevant checks is a crucial step before you even consider enrolling to further your studies. ‘Prospective students also must ensure that their qualifications will, after 3 or 4 years of study, still be relevant and likely to provide a foot in the door ... into the world of work,’ he adds.

Will your tertiary education qualification be relevant?

‘Unfortunately, many qualifications – even from respected universities – will not prepare you adequately for the world of work in the future,’ Kriel says. ‘Keep in mind that technology is constantly advancing, with new approaches, best practices, tools, and so forth being incorporated into workplaces all the time, all over the world.’ In other words, technology will eventually make many jobs obsolete in office support, food services, production and machine operations, and mechanical installation and repairs.

According to Get Smarter, by 2030 ‘the jobs that will continue to be in demand include health professionals, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) specialists, creatives, managers, and those in education or workforce training.’

Also consider the rise in careers and jobs that still need to be created – they will blossom to meet new or growing social needs like climate change and environmental issues, or to deal with the longer life expectancy of the global population. You probably haven’t considered a job as a solar-energy or wind-turbine engineer yet, or becoming an urban farmer using technology to grow crops sustainably. These are spin-offs of existing professions – but with a twist. If your chosen facility offers accredited courses for these careers, you’re on a more secure, future-focused career path.

‘There are predictions that future roles such as AI psychologist, drone manager or quantum data analyst will also exist. There should also be significant growth in health and wellness professionals [who] can assist in taking care of an ageing population, keeping everyone fit and healthy, and offering the special care and bedside manners missing from machines and robots,’ Get Smarter adds.


The DHET provides a record of registered, legitimate tertiary education providers which they update regularly


Also consider that tertiary courses are evolving with the changing job market, so there are bound to be some reputable, accredited courses in academic disciplines that didn’t exist a few decades ago. For example, you might enjoy writing and want to study journalism. Upon investigation, you may decide that a traditional journalism degree doesn’t prepare you for the changing world of media and content creation. You could study for a reputable user experience (UX) diploma or degree focused on writing instead.

Is the tertiary education provider recognised and certified?

Once you’ve decided on the course that you want to study and you’ve made sure that it will place you in a good position in the job market after you qualify, you must make sure that your tertiary education service provider is legitimate.

Nowadays, bogus educational institutions can create an online presence effortlessly using social media and custom-built websites. You might be scrolling your favourite social network and see an ad for a diploma that suits your career plans. Because you’ve seen these ads in several places on social media, you might believe it’s legitimate. But social platforms have a terrible reputation for preventing fraudulent ads. You need to do a bit of homework – starting with contacting the facility and asking it to confirm its credentials, such as a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) ID number.

You can also contact the DHET to confirm the institution’s details and check whether they offer accredited courses – follow the link to their website above. Fortunately, the DHET provides a record of registered, legitimate tertiary education providers which they update regularly. You can use this list to see if the college, university or online education facility is recognised.

The SAQA website allows you to search for a qualification. If the qualification offered by the course that you’re thinking of studying isn’t listed, it’s probably not recognised. It’s important to understand that a qualification can be called a qualification only if it has a credit value of 120 as a minimum and is registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) with an NQF ID or SAQA ID number. 

‘The shortest possible qualification usually is one year, which takes about a year of study to do 120 credits,’ Kriel explains. ‘A degree is typically at least 360 credits, and so on. Without these 2 being in place, what you are studying is considered a short course [or certification], not a qualification, so it cannot be called a diploma or degree. Suppose a South African institution offers you a diploma for 3 weeks of study. In that case, it is not legitimate, and warning lights should start flashing about that institution.’

That said, however, short courses and certifications are a popular way to learn supplementary skills that can make you more marketable in the workplace, so don’t automatically rule one out. Just be aware that it won’t be considered a degree or diploma.

If you want to further your studies at a recognised tertiary institution, Nedbank can help with a Nedbank bursary or a competitive student loan. With the right qualification, you can unlock new frontiers in the evolving world of work and explore exciting new digital, tech-driven opportunities.