These are the best subjects to take at the top universities in South Africa

If you want to study to be vet in South Africa, then the University of Pretoria should be your first choice – and if you’re considering the hospitality industry, then the University of Johannesburg is a top option.

These are some of the findings from the Academic Ranking of World Universities’ (ARWU) latest annual ranking of academic subjects for 2018 – which shows the subjects that global universities (including South Africa’s) excel in.

The ranking system is heavily focused on research quality, impact, and collaboration, and assesses more than 1,600 institutions from 83 countries across 54 subjects in five broad subject areas.

These include: natural sciences, engineering, life sciences, medical sciences, and social sciences.

For each field of study, the top 500 universities were listed, with 12 South African universities ranked among them in almost every field.

Where South African institutes generally excel is in social sciences, with the  country’s top universities also featuring in the natural sciences, life sciences and certain engineering fields.

Engineering is generally South Africa’s weakest area, with our universities showing in only six of the 22 subject fields – featuring most prominently in the mining and mineral engineering category.

While South African universities mostly rank in the lower-reaches of each category (outside of the top 200), several made it into the top 100, or even the top 50.

The University of Johannesburg attained the highest ranking of all SA universities, listed as the 20th best university in the world for its hospitality and tourism courses. Wits University meanwhile ranked as the 32nd best university in the world for its mining engineering courses, and in the top 75 for public health sciences.

The University of Pretoria ranked 37th overall for veterinary sciences, and Stellenbosch University also made it into the top 50 for mining engineering, ranked 47th, and in the top 75 for food science technology.

The University of Cape Town featured in the most subject rankings (20) but only ranked within the top 100 for mining and engineering.

Below, we’ve listed the best fields of study across all 12 South African universities featured, ordered by highest to lowest rank.


University of Cape Town

Subject Ranking
Mining and Mineral Engineering 76-100
Oceanography 101-150
Public Health 101-150
Law 151-200
Ecology 201-300
Atmospheric Scienes 201-300
Human Biological Sciences 201-300
Pharmaceutical Sciences 201-300
Politics 201-300
Education 201-300
Communication 201-300
Biological Sciences 301-400
Clinical Medicine 301-400
Economics 301-400
Psychology 301-400
Environmental Sciences and Engineering 301-400
Physics 401-500
Earth Sciences 401-500
Chemical Engineering 401-500
Biotechnology 401-500

Stellenbosch University

Subject Ranking
Mining and Mineral Engineering 47
Food Science Technology 51-75
Ecology 101-150
Agricultural Sciences 101-150
Public Health 101-150
Geography 151-200
Human Biological Sciences 201-300
Veterinary Sciences 201-300
Clinical Medicine 201-300
Politics 201-300
Earth Sciences 301-400
Economics 301-400
Education 301-400
Biotechnology 301-400
Environmental Sciences and Engineering 301-400
Pharmaceutical Sciences 401-500
Chemical Engineering 401-500
Biological Sciences 401-500

University of Pretoria

Subject Ranking
Veterinary Sciences 37
Ecology 151-200
Agricultural Sciences 151-200
Law 151-200
Economics 201-300
Atmospheric Sciences 301-400
Biological Sciences 301-400
Public Health 301-400
Politics 301-400
Education 301-400
Business Administration 301-400
Biotechnology 301-400
Human Biological Sciences 401-500
Electrical and Electronic Engineering 401-500
Computer Science Engineering 401-500
Chemical Engineering 401-500
Environmental Sciences and Engineering 401-500

University of KwaZulu Natal

Subject Ranking
Public Health 76-100
Chemical Engineering 101-150
Ecology 151-200
Physics 201-300
Agricultural Sciences 201-300
Veterinary Sciences 201-300
Clinical Medicine 201-300
Education 201-300
Atmospheric Sciences 301-400
Human Biological Sciences 301-400
Pharmaceutical Sciences 301-400
Earth Sciences 401-500
Psychology 401-500
Electrical and Electronic Engineering 401-500
Environmental Sciences and Engineering 401-500
Biotechnology 401-500

Wits University

Subject Ranking
Mining and Mineral Engineering 32
Public Health 51-75
Geography 101-150
Clinical Medicine 101-150
Communication 151-200
Earth Sciences 151-200
Ecology 201-300
Human Biological Sciences 201-300
Politics 201-300
Education 201-300
Physics 301-400
Atmospheric Sciences 301-400
Biological Sciences 301-400
Mathematics 401-500
Chemical Engineering 401-500
Environmental Engineering 401-500

North-West University

Subject Ranking
Mining and Mineral Engineering 76 – 100
Hospitality and Tourism 151-200
Atmospheric Sciences 201-300
Clinical Medicine 301-400
Politics 301-400
Education 301-400
Mathematics 401-500
Psychology 401-500
Environmental Sciences and Engineering 401-500

University of Johannesburg

Subject Ranking
Hospitality and Tourism 20
Sociology 101-150
Earth Sciences 201-300
Politics 201-300
Communication 201-300
Education 301-400

University of the Western Cape

Subject Ranking
Public Health 301-400
Education 301-400

Rhodes University

Subject Ranking
Ecology 201-300

Nelson Mandela University

Subject Ranking
Ecology 301-400

University of the Free State

Subject Ranking
Education 301-400

University of South Africa

Subject Ranking
Education 301-400

Read: New university course to focus on land transformation in South Africa

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