What you should know about South Africa’s 5 best universities

With five global university rankings released for 2015, an overview of where each ranked university placed shows which institutes are rated the best overall in the country.

Having placed first in four of the five rankings, it’s no surprise that the University of Cape Town reigns as South Africa’s best university.

The only ranking which did not place UCT at number one in South Africa was the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), which gave the honour to Wits.

Wits placed a consistent second, although it lost out to Stellenbosch University for the first time in the Times Higher Education rankings, which placed the Joburg university third.

Each global ranking uses different indicators with different final score weighting to determine the top institutes, and so reflect different levels of excellence.

Thus, the table below does not reflect the intricacies of each ranking, but serves to provide a “ranking overview” of how south African universities performed.

The index works on a score system, where each ranked university is assigned points according to rank, relative to the number of universities listed.

Thus, a university ranked sixth out of six will have a reflectively lower score (1.7 points), compared to a university ranked sixth out of nine (5.5 points).

If a university did not appear in a ranking, it receives 0 points.

University of Cape Town 1st 1st 1st 2nd 1st 9.6
University of the Witwatersrand 3rd 2nd 2nd 1st 2nd 8.4
Stellenbosch University 2nd 3rd 3rd 3rd 4th 6.1
University of KwaZulu-Natal 6th 4th 4th 4th 3rd 4.9
University of Pretoria 5th 5th 5th 5th 2.6
Rhodes University 4th 1.3
University of Johannesburg 7th 6th 1.0
North West University 8th 0.4
University of South Africa 6th 0.3
University of the Western Cape 9th 0.2

The top 5

The top five universities have a combined 133,096 students in the 2015 academic year, and a combined academic staff contingent of 6,962. 12,277 – or 9.2% of all students are international students.

While ranked as the country’s 5th university overall, the University of Pretoria accommodates far more students than any other university in the top 5.

UP has 37,314 students, according to the data, including 3,122 international students. With total academic staff at 1,870, this equates to 20 students per staff member.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is the second biggest with 30,572 students, followed by Wits (23,321), Stellenbosch University (21,849) and finally UCT (20,040).

On average, the top 5 universities have a student to lecturer ratio of 19:1. UKZN has the highest number of students per teacher (25), while UCT has the lowest (12).

UCT had the highest number of international students, accounting for 30% of all foreign students. 18% of UCT students come from other countries.

Students and Staff

University Students International Students % International
University of Pretoria 37 314 3 122 8.4%
University of KwaZulu-Natal 30 572 1 715 5.6%
University of the Witwatersrand 23 321 2 072 8.0%
Stellenbosch University 21 849 1 753 8.9%
University of Cape Town 20 040 3 615 18.0%
Total 133 096 12 277 9.2%


The BGU also provides data on the number of graduates from each university in 2014/15.

In total, there were 22,886 undergraduate degrees issued, 6,071 masters degrees, and 1,099 doctorates.

Being the largest university by student numbers, there’s no surprise that the University of Pretoria accounts for the most graduates in each category.

However, Stellenbosch university had the second highest number of masters and doctorate degrees.


University Degrees % of total
University of Pretoria 6 509 28.4%
University of KwaZulu-Natal 5 543 24.2%
University of the Witwatersrand 3 980 17.4%
Stellenbosch University 3 544 15.5%
University of Cape Town 3 310 14.5%
Total 22 886


University Degrees % of total
University of Pretoria 1 476 24.3%
Stellenbosch University 1 305 21.5%
University of the Witwatersrand 1 219 20.1%
University of Cape Town 1 209 19.9%
University of KwaZulu-Natal 862 14.2%
Total 6 071


University Degrees % of total
University of Pretoria 242 22.0%
Stellenbosch University 224 20.4%
University of the Witwatersrand 221 20.1%
University of KwaZulu-Natal 207 18.8%
University of Cape Town 205 18.7%
Total 1 099

For more details on the global university rankings you can check out these articles:

More on universities

Whiteness of South African universities questioned

Where do we draw the line on freedom of expression in SA universities?

Why we need to be more sensitive when ranking Africa’s universities

SA universities with the richest students

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Follow us


What you should know about South Africa’s 5 best universities