Postgraduate education in the Department of Civil Engineering at UCT commonly results in one of three outputs:

  • Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD)
  • Master degree

As a matter of clarity, by convention a Master degree is normally awarded following the successful examination of a dissertation, which means a discourse or discussion. A PhD is awarded on the basis of a thesis (an assertion or tenet that has to be proved against critical attack). In practice, however, the two terms are commonly used interchangeably.

Please note: Information published draws on published UCT documents and Handbooks, it does not replace them. The rules for the various higher degrees are set out in the these handbooks, available at UCT Handbooks:

  • General Rules & Policies (Handbook 3)
  • Engineering & the Built Environment - Postgraduate (Faculty)

Master degrees in Engineering

Master degrees in the Faculty may be obtained in one of three ways (i) by a 180 credit research dissertation; or (ii) by 60 credits of coursework and a 120 credit research of dissertation; or (iii) by 120 credits of coursework and a 60 credit dissertation. Note that 1 Credit implies 10 notional hours of intensive study (South African Qualifications Authority).

    The Department of Civil Engineering offers a number of Postgraduate Master Degrees:

      MEng MSc Eng ProfM ​​​ MPhil
    Civil Engineering   ☓ [120/180]    
    Civil Infrastructure Management and Maintenance (CIMM) ☓ [120/180]  
    Geotechnical Engineering   ☓ [120]  
    Structural Engineering and Materials (SEM) ☓ [120]  
    Transport Studies   ☓ [60/120/180]
    Water Quality Engineering ☓ [120/180]  

    [Numbers] indicate dissertation credits

    Master of Engineering (MEng): This is a coursework masters (120 credits of coursework and 60 credits of a minor dissertation). Generally, candidates entering this programme should have a four year engineering degree or its equivalent (based primarily on academic qualifications and work-place experience).

    Master of Science in Engineering (MSc Eng): This is a research-based degree (180 credit dissertation or 120 credit dissertation plus 60 credits coursework). Generally, candidates entering this programme should have an equivalent of an Honours degree or a four year engineering degree.

    Master (ProfM): This degree is aimed at Professionals with limited time available to concentrate on a dissertation. Candidates are required to complete 140 credits coursework as well as a 45 credit project, or in the case of the Transport Studies programme, 2x 25 credit projects.

    Master of Philosophy (MPhil): This is a faculty (not a departmental) degree for candidates engaged in interdisciplinary dissertation and coursework. The MPhil is offered in three options:

    • 120 credits coursework with 60 credit minor dissertation
    • 120 credits dissertation with 60 credit coursework
    • 180 credits research dissertation

    The difference between a masters and a doctoral degree

    At the most fundamental level, the PhD is the higher degree: it requires more effort and time to obtain. However, in practice the difference is more subtle than this.

    A Master degree is frequently the first real research students will undertake. Its primary function is thus training in research. It is a clearly circumscribed piece of work that the supervisor feels confident can be undertaken within, or close to, the minimum time period. The process includes posing the research question, undertaking a relevant literature review, engaging rigorously with research methods, drawing valid conclusions and communicating findings in a clear, logical and scholarly way. Importantly, the work does not have to contain original findings – it must simply demonstrate a mastery of the methods of research.

    Masters degrees are departmental degrees: students are located within departments or within departmentally-related research groups. Most Master degrees are discipline-specific. The Master of Philosophy is interdisciplinary and students are usually located with the department of the primary supervisor.

      The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), on the other hand, certifies that the candidate is able to conduct independent research on his / her own initiative. Through the thesis the candidate must be able to demonstrate that he/she is at the academic forefront in the topic selected, that the work is original and that it advances knowledge.

      The PhD is a university-wide degree (the award of the degree is the responsibility of the Doctoral Degrees Board) and students are academically located with the department of the principal supervisor.


      Limited financial support is available in the form of scholarships, bursaries and student loans. Certain awards are granted exclusively on academic merit, while others take financial need into account.

      Postgraduate Funding Office

      Postgraduate funding applications should be completed as part of the application for admission to UCT. See UCT Postgraduate Funding Office for the various forms of postgraduate financial assistance offered and application forms. 

      The closing date for South African applications is 31 October 2021.

      A limited number of scholarships are available for international and refugee students. UCT international and refugee students’ scholarships are not full cost awards. Before applying to the Postgraduate Funding Office for funding, the UCT application form 10C needs to be submitted. Application form 10C needs to completed and returned to the Postgraduate Centre and Funding Office by 31 July. See IAPO Postgraduate Funding for more information.

      EBE Faculty international postgraduate academic scholarships

      The Faculty offers a generous system of international scholarships to encourage student diversity. The scholarships are awarded to first time registering postgraduates on the basis of academic merit. The award is granted for one academic year at a time. Application forms are available from the PG Officer in the EBE Faculty Office. All applications must be accompanied by a recommendation from the head of the recipient’s host department and the supervisor. Applications are considered by a panel of senior Faculty academics who make a recommendation to the Dean for a final decision.

      Applications for renewal must be submitted by letter from the student together with a progress report signed by the Supervisor by not later than 30 November of each year.

      EBE Faculty international student bursaries

      Applications may be made to have the International registration fee reduced to the level of local fees, on the grounds of proven financial hardship. Application must be made through the EBE Faculty Office to the Deputy Dean charged with this portfolio. The forms are available from the Faculty Office as well as the departments.

      Students exempt from paying the international fee and therefore not eligible to apply for this bursary are:

      • Students from SADC countries
      • Research Masters students (180 credit dissertations)
      • Doctoral Students

      Please note that all international students are required to pay an administrative service fee that is not covered by the bursary. Please consult the Fees Handbook (Book 12), available on UCT Handbooks.