Difference Between Certificate, Diploma, And Degree


If you want to know the difference between a certificate, diploma, or degree programme, then no worries, in this article, we have written down the Difference Between Certificate, Diploma, And Degree.

Difference Between Certificate, Diploma, And Degree

You are not alone; many people are confused too!


Frequently, people hoping to get an education and progress to the next stage of their life and career find it confusing when it’s time to choose between the three options.

This confusion is not surprising considering that there are similarities in the course contents even though the length of time to complete each is different.


Furthermore, even though the topics covered in each programme may look alike – depending on the specific course, say, Business Administration, for instance – the depth and scope covered makes all the difference.

Who determines the differences?


In South Africa, classifying academic programmes on various levels is in the purview of the Department of Education and handled explicitly by the Office of the Minister of Education and Training as stipulated by section 8 (2) (e) of the National Qualifications Act, 2008.

The Minister of Education and Training is responsible for overseeing the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) as well as determining the qualifications structure of South Africa’s higher education system.

Correspondingly, the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is in charge of developing policy and all the other criteria for registering standards and qualifications on the NQF on the recommendation of the Council on Higher Education (CHE).


In turn, the CHE is responsible for the development and management of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) as well as advising the Minister of Education and Training on all matters that relate with the HEQSF.

It does not end there, though.

Professional bodies are also involved in classifying, accrediting, regulating, and licensing some certificate programmes as specified by the various frameworks that oversee their activities.

Such institutions are further tasked with determining whether a specific qualification meets current or proposed preset standards and requirements – and if such a qualification/certificate can be awarded to the public upon completion of the programme in question.

How are these qualifications categorised?

Knowing which level and category each programme is registered further expound on the similarities and differences of the different courses of study.

In South Africa, there are 11 higher education qualification types currently captured in the NQF framework.

These are further split into two main categories: undergraduate qualifications and graduate qualifications.

Undergraduate Qualifications

  • Higher Certificate
  • Advanced Certificate
  •  Diploma
  • Advanced Diploma
  • Bachelor’s Degree

Postgraduate Qualifications

  • Postgraduate Diploma
  • Bachelor Honours Degree
  • Master’s Degree
  • Professional Master’s Degree
  • Doctoral Degree
  • Professional Doctorate

While these are the current ones recognised and awarded in South Africa, the Minister of Higher Education, on the advice of the CHE, may approve qualifications if/when such a need arises and is proven necessary.

What characteristics differentiate these qualifications?

To fully grasp the differences, it is essential to compare the 11 qualifications in a table format.


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