These are the 9 best universities in South Africa

Higher education analysts, QS Quacquarelli Symonds has published the eighteenth edition of the QS World University Rankings, with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) celebrating an unbroken decade as the world’s best tertiary institution.

The top five institutions saw a significant reconfiguration, with Harvard University falling out of the top three – its lowest-ever rank – replaced by the University of Oxford, moving up to second from fifth a year ago, while another UK institution, the University of Cambridge, shares third spot with Stanford University.

California Institute of Technology – Caltech dropped out of the top five for the first time since 2015, while ETH Zurich remains continental Europe’s best university for a fourteenth consecutive year.

In a major milestone, Mainland China is home to two of the world’s top twenty universities for the first time ever. Asia’s two top universities are National University of Singapore (11th) and Nanyang Technological University (12th).

Latin America’s best university is Universidad de Buenos Aires (69th), which QS Quacquarelli Symonds said is hampered by low research impact scores.

South Africa

For South Africa, nine universities are ranked, led once again by the University of Cape Town with an overall score of 40.3.

It places well ahead of University of the Witwatersrand, with 27.1 points, while the University of Johannesburg climbed the rankings (26.7 points), pipping Stellenbosch University to third spot (25.4 points).

UCT declined six places from a year ago, Wits lost 21 places, however UJ climbed the rankings. Stellies also lost ground, having given up third place in the 2020 edition of the ranking.

On the continent, The American University in Cairo places fourth behind the top three South African institutions (26.1 points), while Cairo University is ranked 571-580, and the Université de Sousse in Tunisia is ranked 701-750.

University 2022 ranking 2021 ranking
University of Cape Town 226 220
University of the Witwatersrand 424 403
University of Johannesburg 434 439
Stellenbosch University 482 456
University of Pretoria 601-650 561-570
Rhodes University 801-1000 801-1000
University of KwaZulu-Natal 801-1000 801-1000
North-West University 1001-1200 1001+
University of the Western Cape 1001-1200 1001+


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%)

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These are the 9 best universities in South Africa