THE proportion of black South Africans with higher education qualifications has nearly doubled since 1996, while the proportion with no schooling has halved, according to the 2011 census results.

The results, released by Statistics SA on Tuesday, also show that despite increasing levels of educational achievement and overall participation, the proportion of those aged between 18 and 24 enrolled in education remains lower than in 1996.

The inverse relationship between age and education has strengthened, however, with older South Africans far more likely to have lower levels of educational achievement.

Of those aged 5-24, 73.5% attended an educational institution last year, compared with 71.5% in 2001 and 70.1% in 1996.

Looking at South Africans older than 20, 12.1% now have higher education qualifications, compared with 7.1% in 1996 and 8.4% in 2001. This is despite the percentage of 24-year-olds attending an educational institution remaining at 14.8%, compared with 23.1% in 1996.

Of those aged 20-24, 2% have received no schooling, compared with 44.1% of South Africans aged 80 or more.

In 2011, 40.6% of those aged 20-24 had completed matric, compared with only 9.9% of those aged 80 or more.

The proportion of five- to seven-year-olds in education has increased significantly, to 81.2% in 2011 from 22.5% in 1996 and 45.6% in 2001.

The percentage of 24-year-olds attending an education institution continues to be low, at 14.8% compared with 23.1% in 1996, although the figure could relate to a decrease in the average age of those taking or retaking matric.

The census data also note a large shift in fields of higher educational study, notably by gender.

In 2001, most higher educational qualifications among men were in the field of business, commerce or management science, at 19.4%, while 30.8% of women qualified in education, training and related fields.

Ten years on, 26.1% of women qualify in business, commerce or management science, with qualifications in educational fields dropping to 20.6% — the two dominant categories among women.

Qualifications in engineering and related fields saw a notable increase among men, to 23.9% from 19.1% in 2001. Women also increased their participation in this field, to 4.1% in 2011 from 1.9% in 2001.

Participation in health and related fields, as well as in natural, physical and mathematical sciences, registered small decreases.