Ranking 13 of the best universities in South Africa

As student groups return to campuses in phased approach, thirteen universities in South Africa feature in the 2020-2021 list of the top 2,000 universities compiled by the Centre for World University Rankings (CWUR).

They are led by the University of Cape Town, ranked 268th globally, and followed by the University of the Witwatersrand, which lost its top spot in SA to UCT in 2018.

Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and University of Pretoria round up the top five universities in South Africa, with the University of Johannesburg ranked sixth.

According to the CWUR, results have been largely negative for local universities in 2020 with all but two universities losing ground.

The University of Johannesburg, along with the University of South Africa (Unisa) are the only two ranked South African universities to improve their positioning on the ranking in the last year.

UJ improved its placement by 55 to rank 706th overall, while Unisa improved 8 places, to 1,409. All other local universities dropped down the rankings.

CWUR listed UJ among the top 3.6% of the world’s best performing universities using its methodology of seven performance criteria, which includes quality of education, quality of academic faculty staff, alumni employment, and overall research performance.

The latter comprising research-related factors, including the quantity of research output publications, as well as those research output publications of the highest quality, influence and impact, which appear in top-tier and highly influential journals, and which are highly cited.

Since 2012, the CWUR World University Rankings independently measure a university’s quality of education and training of students, as well as the prestige of their academic staff members and the quality of their research, without relying on reputational surveys and university data submissions.

For the 2020-21 edition of the CWUR World University Rankings, 20,000 higher education institutions were evaluated, with only the top 2,000 making the cut by attaining a ranking placement on the final league table.

2020 Rank 2019 Rank University 2020 Score (2019)
268 252 University of Cape Town 77.3 (77.6)
275 254 University of Witwatersrand 77.2 (77.6)
429 381 Stellenbosch University 75.0 (75.6)
477 424 University of KwaZulu-Natal 74.4 (75.0)
578 556 University of Pretoria 73.4 (73.6)
706 761 University of Johannesburg 72.3 (71.9)
922 869 North-West University 70.8 (71.1)
1158 1034 University of the Western Cape 69.4 (70.1)
1200 1183 University of the Free State 69.2 (69.3)
1295 1224 Rhodes University 68.7 (69.0)
1409 1417 Unisa 68.2 (68.1)
1655 1620 Nelson Mandela University 67.1 (67.2)
1936 1926 Tshwane University of Technology 66.0 (66.1)

Global ranking

For the ninth year in a row Harvard has been ranked as the top global university by the CWUR.

The global top 10 is as follows (last year’s rankings in parentheses):

  1. Harvard University (1)
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2)
  3. Stanford University (3)
  4. University of Cambridge (4)
  5. University of Oxford (5)
  6. Columbia University (6)
  7. Princeton University (7)
  8. University of Pennsylvania (9)
  9. University of Chicago (10)
  10. Yale University (12)

CWUR grades universities on seven factors without relying on surveys and university data submissions: quality of teaching, alumni employment, quality of faculty, research output, high-quality publications, influence, and citations.

The US has eight representatives in the top-10, which has been the case since the rankings started in 2012, and is the most represented country in the top 2000 with 357 universities, including three from Puerto Rico.

All Ivy League institutions feature in the top 60 this year.

In China, the number of universities in the top 2000 is 267 – with 258 from mainland China, 7 from Hong Kong, and 2 from Macau. While Peking and Tsinghua declined slightly, the rest of the C9 League saw improvements this year.

Japan, led by the University of Tokyo in 14th place, has 126 top-2000 institutions.

The University of Cambridge leaps for the first time to top spot globally in quality of education, and ranks as the top public university in the world for the 6th year in a row. The number of UK institutions in the top 2000 this year is 95. France, led by PSL University at number 21, has 82 representatives in the top 2000.

46 institutions from Russia, led by Moscow State University at number 193, feature in the top 2000. Elsewhere, the University of Melbourne ranks first in Oceania, the University of São Paulo tops Latin America, and the University of Cape Town ranks highest in Africa.


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Ranking 13 of the best universities in South Africa