Ranking the 13 best universities in South Africa

 ·27 Apr 2021

Thirteen universities from South Africa feature in the 2021-2022 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 269th globally, and followed by the University of the Witwatersrand at 292nd.

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

The only change in the local university rankings for 2021/22 is the University of the Free State overtaking the University of the Western Cape to be ranked eighth – having been ranked ninth last year.

The CWUR grades universities on four factors without relying on surveys and university data submissions: quality of education (25%), alumni employment (25%), quality of faculty (10%), and research performance (40%).

This year, 19,788 institutions were ranked, and those that placed at the top made the global 2,000 list.

South Africa’s universities continued to fare poorly in the rankings, with all but three local institutes dropping down the list. This follows the trend seen in 2020, where only two universities managed to climb the rankings.

While many of the drops on the rankings were marginal – by only a few places – some were much larger, like the University of the Western Cape, which fell 80 places.

Meanwhile, the University of Johannesburg climbed over 30 places, with UFS and Nelson Mandela University being the only other local groups to rise.

2021 Rank 2020 Rank University 2021 Score (2020)
269 268 University of Cape Town 77.3 (77.3)
292 275 University of Witwatersrand 76.9 (77.2)
435 429 Stellenbosch University 74.9 (75.0)
483 477 University of KwaZulu-Natal 74.3 (74.4)
580 578 University of Pretoria 73.3 (73.4)
674 706 University of Johannesburg 72.5 (72.3)
924 922 North-West University 70.7 (70.8)
1163 1200 University of the Free State 69.3 (69.2)
1239 1158 University of the Western Cape 68.9 (69.4)
1313 1295 Rhodes University 68.5 (68.7)
1416 1409 Unisa 68.1 (68.2)
1631 1655 Nelson Mandela University 67.1 (67.1)
1950 1936 Tshwane University of Technology 65.9 (66.0)

Global rankings

For the tenth year in a row, Harvard is the top university worldwide. 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. Princeton University (7)
  7. Columbia University (6)
  8. University of Chicago (9)
  9. University of Pennsylvania (8)
  10. Yale University (12)

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 2,000 with 347 universities.

Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are the most cited universities in the world. All Ivy League institutions feature in the top 70 this year.

In China, the number of universities in the top 2000 is 277. Tsinghua overtakes Peking, as all the C9 League institutions see improvements this year. Japan – led by the University of Tokyo in 13th place – has 124 top-2000 institutions.

The number of UK institutions in the top 2000 this year is 95. The University of Cambridge is the top public university in the world for the 7th year in a row. France – led by PSL University at number 21 – has 79 representatives in the top 2000.

46 institutions from Russia, led by Moscow State University at number 194, 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.

Read: South Africa to spend R43 billion a year on free university education: minister

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