This South African university could challenge the global elite by 2030

When it comes to university rankings, it can feel like little ever changes – the top institutions always remain the same.

However, a report published by higher education strategy consulting firm Firetail identifies a Class of 2030, which consists of a new generation of “challenger” universities.

Firetail said that over timeframes that matter, several universities founded
in the last 50 years are now among the best in the world.

“Over the next 10-20 years, there will be unexpected challenges to the establishment. Ambitious, fast-improving universities will take advantage of disruptive global trends that create unique opportunities for innovation,” it said.

The study identified 346 institutions as potential candidates for the class of 2030, but stressed that only those universities that sustain their improvement over the next 15 years will become globally influential.

Read: Here are South Africa’s 26 universities

The list comprises universities that are ranked between 500th and 1,500th place in the University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP), which judges institutions on their research quality, and that have improved consistently in the list between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

It also considers the environment in which a university is located, taking into account the number of foreign students as a proportion of local students in the country; the proportion of gross domestic product spent on research and development; and the country’s university enrollment rate.

An elite group of 20 universities that rose more than 250 places in the URAP rankings since 2010-11 and are located in strong higher education ecosystems were labelled as “rising stars”.

A further 26 universities that improved by the same amount but are situated in weak higher education ecosystems were named “upstream fighters”. These included Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam University, South Africa’s University of Johannesburg and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

Most of the universities in the list do not currently make the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of the top 800 institutions across the globe, including UJ.

Top South African universities

2015 Rank 2014 Rank University Score
120 124 University of Cape Town 56.1
201-250 251-275 University of the Witwatersrand
301-350 276-300 Stellenbosch University
401-500 University of Kwa-Zulu Natal
501-600 University of Pretoria
601-800 University of South Africa

In the URAP rankings, UJ ranks 612th.

Andy Martin, director of Firetail, said that while “the top few hundred ranks [in the URAP] are pretty stable”, there is much more volatility in the mid-ranked positions below the top 500.

Within this range he identified Australia, China, Poland and Turkey as key countries that are moving up, while the US, Japan, Canada and the UK are generally losing ground.

“It’ll come as no surprise that Chinese universities are making the most dramatic gains” in the middle of the ranking, he told THE. “Their average position has gained from around 1,300 to nearer 950.”

The rising “Class of 2030” will balance long-term vision with short-term execution, linked together by strong management and culture, said Firetail

“They will have a clear view of the changing world and their role in it, and a robust plan to get the resources, people and culture they need to be successful. They will innovate, harnessing new partnerships, new networks, new resources and new institutional models.

The outward-looking and impact-focussed institutions will beat the inward-looking and complacent,” the researchers said.

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This South African university could challenge the global elite by 2030