In its latest report on the financing of higher education institutions, the agency said remunerations represented 61 percent of total spending by the institutions.
The expenditure was far higher than the 14 percent of total expenditure the private sector spent on its staff during the same period, Stats SA said.
Salaries and wages, pension benefits, medical aid and bonuses made up the bulk of the spending, the report said.
The Pretoria-based University of South Africa (Unisa) was the biggest spender on staff in 2018, committing just over R5b (about US$342 million) on compensation for employees, the report said.
This represented 13 percent of the total salary bill for all higher education institutions in the country, it added.
Unisa is the largest higher education institution in the country, enrolling a third of the nation’s one million students.
Following Unisa were the University of Pretoria which spent US$220m; University of Cape Town (US$193m); University of the Witwatersrand (US$167m); Stellenbosch University (US$167m); and Tshwane University of Technology (US$160m).
Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape Province was the varsity that spent the least on salaries at US$6.7m, Stats SA said in the report.