South African universities struggle in global ranking as fee debate begins to bite

While the University of Cape Town is once again South Africa’s top ranked tertiary institution in the 2016 QS World University Rankings, worryingly most of the country’s universities have dropped down the global list due to ongoing funding concerns.

The latest ranking comes amid a national debates on how to finance public higher education in South Africa, and follows a fee freeze in 2016.

UCT has dropped as many as 20 places to 191st worldwide, while second place Wits has dropped 28 places to 359th.

Stellenbosch University, however, has climbed back into the top 400 – to 95th place‚ from the 401-410 band in 2015.

The University of Pretoria, Rhodes University, and University of KwaZulu-Natal all dropped down the rankings, while the University of Johannesburg was stable from the prior year’s ranking.

Relative newcomers to the list – which has been expanded to include 916 universities (800 in 2015) – North West University and the University of the Western Cape both ranked outside the top 700 institutions.

Read: SA university reveals how much it needs to survive – and its not zero percent

Top Universities in South Africa

2016 2015 University
191 171 University of Cape Town
359 331 University of Witwatersrand
395 401-410 Stellenbosch University
551-600 501-550 University of Pretoria
551-600 501-550 Rhodes University
601-650 601-650 University of Johannesburg
651-700 501-550 University of Kwa-Zulu Natal
701+ 701+ North-West University
701+ 701+ University of the Western Cape

Ben Sowter, head of research at QS, said: “This year’s rankings imply that levels of investment are determining who progresses and who regresses. Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding, whether from endowments or from the public purse, are rising.”

“On the other hand, some Western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their US and Asian counterparts.”

South Africa’s performance mimicked the global trend which stressed the importance of prolonged investment, said Sowter. He said that South African universities struggled due to funding shortfalls.

Seven of the nine SA universities measured by QS dropped in the rankings on academic reputation‚ and employer reputation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the world’s top university for the fifth year, and is followed by Stanford and Harvard. Cambridge University and Caltech complete the top five list.

Read: SA university proposes increasing fees only for rich families

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

74,651 academics and 37,781 employers contributed to the rankings through the QS global surveys, the largest of their kind.

QS said it analyzed 10.3 million research papers and 66.3 million citations, indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus database. Over 3,800 institutions were considered for inclusion and 916 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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South African universities struggle in global ranking as fee debate begins to bite