South Africa’s 8 best universities ranked

Global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds has published its latest World University Rankings for 2020.

As part of the study, QS ranked 1,000 universities from 82 different locations, surveyed 94,000 academics and 44,000 hiring managers and analysed 11.8 million research papers and 100 million citations.

Universities are measured on academic standing, graduate employability, student/staff ratio, research impact, and internationalisation.

According to the QS rankings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made history, topping the rankings for the eighth consecutive year.

US universities continue to dominate the upper reaches of the ranking – following MIT, Stanford University, Harvard University and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) all retained their positions at second, third and fifth in the world respectively.

China, continental Europe and Australia saw a number of their universities climb the 2020 rankings.

Global rank University Country
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
2 Stanford University United States
3 Harvard University United States
4 University of Oxford United Kingdom
5 California Institute of Technology United States
6 ETH Zurich Switzerland
7 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
8 University College London United Kingdom
9 Imperial College London United Kingdom
10 University of Chicago United States

South Africa

The University of Cape Town climbed two places in the 2020 rankings, once again being named as the top university in South Africa (198th in the world).

The remaining universities in the rankings remained largely the same. Notably, North-West University slipped out of the top 1,000 rankings completely in 2020.

2019/2020 ranking University 2018/2019 ranking
198 University of Cape Town 200
400 University of Witwatersrand 381
427 Stellenbosch University 405
501 – 510 University of Johannesburg 551 – 560
551 – 560 University of Pretoria 561 – 570
801 -1000 Rhodes University 801 -1000
801 -1000 University of KwaZulu Natal 751 – 800
801 -1000 University of the Western Cape 801 -1000


The QS ranking is based on a mix of survey responses and hard data across six indicators, compiled and weighted to formulate a final score.

Over 80,000 academics and 40,000 employers contributed to the rankings through the QS global surveys, while QS said it analysed 99 million citations from 10.3 million papers, and 1,000 institutions were ranked.

The ranking’s biggest indicator, accounting for 40% of the total score, is based on academic reputation.

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

The indicators and scores are:

  • Academic reputation (40%)
  • Employer reputation (10%)
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
  • Citations per faculty (20%)
  • International faculty ratio (5%)
  • International student ratio (5%)

Read: Solidarity is launching a R4.5 billion project – including an alternative Afrikaans school system and university

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South Africa’s 8 best universities ranked