Wits trumps UCT for the second time in global university ranking

While the University of Cape Town takes the crown in most of the global university rankings that are released each year, Wits University is still South Africa’s best institution in the eyes of the Shanghai rankings.

The Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University has released its 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), presenting the world’s top 500 universities – including five South African institutions.

For the 15th year in a row, Harvard University in the US is ranked as the world’s top university, claiming the top spot in many of the fields covered in the ranking.

The 2017 ranking shows little change among South Africa’s institutions, but does mark the second year in a row that Wits has trumped the University of Cape Town on the list. It also marks the first time the University of Johannesburg has been featured in the ranking.

Previously, Wits only managed to come out on top in the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), which it achieved for the third year in a row in 2016. The 2017 CWUR has not yet been published.

The ARWU does not officially rank universities outside of the top 200, but provides given scores across all categories, which can be calculated into a total.

Overall – excluding UJ, which made its debut on the list – half the ranked universities improved their position (Stellies and UKZN), and the other half dropped (Wits and UCT).

Wits was ranked somewhere outside the top 200, but within the top 300 (201-300), UCT was within the next band (301-400) and the other listed South African Universities were within the final band (401-500).

This is how South Africa’s top 5 universities ranked in the ARWU, locally.

South African universities

# University 2016 Score 2017 Score
1 University of the Witwatersrand 17.42 16.91
2 University of Cape Town 16.53 14.70
3 Stellenbosch University 11.25 11.82
4 University of Johannesburg 10.94
5 University of KwaZulu Natal 10.10 10.29

The Shanghai rankings work by assigning the highest scoring institution (Harvard) a score of 100, and other institutions are calculated as a percentage of the top score.

A university’s ranking reflects the number of institutions that sit above it.

As with all university rankings, the Shanghai ranking weighs category scores differently, though relatively more evenly than other rankings.

  • 10% – Alumni – Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals;
  • 20% – Awards – Staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals;
  • 20% – HiCi – Highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories;
  • 20% – N&S – Papers published in Nature and Science;
  • 20% – PUB – Papers in Science Citation and Social Science Citation Indices;
  • 10% – PCP – Per capita academic performance of an institution.

All universities improved in their publications in science and social science indices (PUB) and in the per capita performance – however only Stellenbosch University managed to improve their number of papers published in nature and science (N&S).

Here’s how the universities performed across all categories:

University category scores

Indicator Weight UCT Wits UKZN Stellenbosch UJ
Alumni 10% 18.3 18.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Awards 20% 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
HiCi 20% 0.0 15.4 0.0 10.9 18.9
N&S 20% 12.1 10.8 8.2 5.5 0.0
PUB 20% 39.9 36.7 33.6 32.8 26.6
PCP 10% 21.7 21.5 17.2 17.4 16.2
Total 100% 14.70 16.91 10.29 11.82 10.94

Update: the previous score calculations in the table above were incorrect, and have been updated to reflect the accurate weightings. Total scores are the weighted total expressed as a percentage of the top-ranked university (=100).


Read: University fees in 2017: how much it costs to study in South Africa

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Wits trumps UCT for the second time in global university ranking