These are the best subjects to study at South Africa’s top universities in 2020

The latest edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject has been released, featuring 12 South African universities with courses that are among the top 600 in the world.

The QS rankings identifies which subjects universities are particularly strong in relation to international competitors, looking specifically at academic reputation and research output.

Research citations, along with the results of major global surveys of employers and academics are also used to rank the universities.

The 12 universities ranked in the 2020 subject listing marks the most South African institutions ever ranked, and includes the debut of the International Hotel School of South Africa.

South African universities ranked in 38 of the 48 subjects covered in the QS listing, with a particularly strong showing in Chemical Engineering, Medicine and Chemistry.

The best performances were seen in Development Studies, Mining and Mineral Engineering, Veterinary Sciences and in Hospitality, where the International Hotel School made its debut, ranking 44th.

The University of Cape Town ranking in the most subjects (34), followed by Wits (26), Stellenbosch University (23), the University of Pretoria (18) and UKZN (9).

Other South African universities ranked include the University of Johannesburg (7 subjects), Unisa, North West University, and the University of the Western Cape (2 subjects each), and the University of the Free State, Rhodes University and the International Hotel School (1 subject each).

The tables below outline which are the highest ranked subjects at each university. Subjects in green indicate they are ranked within the top 100, and bolded subjects are where the university was uniquely ranked in South Africa (eg, UCT was the only South African university ranked for Politics).


University of Cape Town

Subject Ranking
Development Studies 10
Archaeology 51-100
Architecture 51-100
Anatomy and Physiology 51-100
Medicine 51-100
Geography 51-100
Anthropology 51-100
English and Literature 101-150
History 101-150
Agriculture and Forestry 101-150
Pharmacy and Pharmacology 101-150
Earth and Marine Sciences 101-150
Environmental Sciences 101-150
Communication and Media Studies 101-150
Education 101-150
Law 101-150
Politics 101-150
Linguistics 151-200
Civil Engineering 151-200
Biological Sciences 151-200
Psychology 151-200
Accounting and Finance 151-200
Sociology 151-200
Statistics and Operational Research 151-200
Modern Languages 201-250
Chemical Engineering 201-250
Mechanical Engineering 201-250
Physics and Astronomy 201-250
Economics and Econometrics 201-250
Business and Management Studies 251-300
Computer Science 301-350
Electronic Engineering 301-350
Chemistry 351-400
Mathematics 401-450

University of the Witwatersrand

Subject Ranking
Mineral and Mining Engineering 12
Development Studies 19
Archaeology 51-100
Anthropology 51-100
Earth and Marine Sciences 101-150
Geography 101-150
English and Literature 151-200
History 151-200
Linguistics 151-200
Medicine 151-200
Education 201-250
Sociology 201-250
Chemical Engineering 251-300
Agriculture and Forestry 251-300
Pharmacy and Pharmacology 251-300
Accounting and Finance 251-300
Law 251-300
Environmental Sciences 301-350
Mechanical Engineering 351-400
Biological Sciences 351-400
Mathematics 401-450
Physics and Astronomy 401-450
Economics and Econometrics 401-450
Electrical and Electronic Engineering 451-500
Business and Management Studies 451-500
Chemistry 501-550

Stellenbosch University

Subject Ranking
Developmental Studies 41
Theology and Religious Studies 51-100
Agriculture and Forestry 51-100
Geography 151-200
English and Literature 201-250
Modern Languages 201-250
Medicine 201-250
Environmental Sciences 201-250
Education 201-250
Law 201-250
Linguistics 251-300
Chemical Engineering 251-300
Biological Sciences 251-300
Pharmacy and Pharmacology 251-300
Accounting and Finance 251-300
Sociology 251-300
Mechanical Engineering 301-350
Business and Management Studies 301-350
Economics and Econometrics 301-350
Electrical and Electronic Engineering 401-450
Chemistry 451-500
Physics and Astronomy 451-500
Computer Science 501-550

University of Pretoria

Subject Ranking
Veterinary Sciences 50
Theology and Religious Studies 51-100
Agriculture and Forestry 51-100
Archaeology 151-200
Accounting and Finance 151-200
Economics and Econometrics 201-250
Law 201-250
Electronic and Electrical Engineering 251-300
Mechanical Engineering 251-300
Education 251-300
Sociology 251-300
Chemical Engineering 301-350
Biological Sciences 301-350
Medicine 301-350
Environmental Sciences 301-350
Mathematics 401-450
Computer Science 451-500
Chemistry 451-500

University of KwaZulu Natal

Subject Ranking
Developmental Studies 51-100
Chemical Engineering 301-350
Agriculture and Forestry 301-350
Environmental Studies 301-350
Medicine 351-400
Chemistry 401-450
Physics and Astronomy 401-450
Biological Sciences 451-500
Mathematics 451-500

University of Johannesburg

Subject Ranking
English and Literature 201-251
Chemical Engineering 301-351
Mechanical Engineering 401-451
Economics and Econometrics 401-451
Physics and Astronomy 451-500
Chemistry 501-551
Medicine 551-600

University of South Africa

Subject Ranking
Theology and Religious Studies 51-100
Chemical Engineering 351-400

University of the Western Cape

Subject Ranking
Development Studies 51-100
Medicine 551-600

North West University

Subject Ranking
Agriculture and Forestry 351-400
Medicine 501-550

International Hotel School

Subject Ranking
Hospitality 44

University of the Free State

Subject Ranking
Agriculture and Forestry 301-350

Rhodes University

Subject Ranking
Agriculture and Forestry 351-400

Read: South Africa’s new university has a name: Oliver Tambo University of Science and Technology

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These are the best subjects to study at South Africa’s top universities in 2020