These are the 9 best universities in South Africa – with one shooting up the global rankings

 ·9 Jun 2022

Quacquarelli Symonds has published its latest QS World University Ranking for 2023, showing that the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg has given way to a new number-two in South Africa.

Neighbouring institution, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has continued to climb the global list over the past four years to become the second-highest ranked university in the country.

UJ is the only local institution to consistently climb the rankings in recent years – moving up from the 601-650 range in 2018/19, to the 551-560 range in 2019/20, and then into the 501-510 band in 2020/21.

In 2021/22, UJ moved into third place locally (434 overall), and now in 2022/23, its ranks second locally, and 412th overall.

Wits University, which previously held and maintained its second-place position locally, dropped to third place, and also slipped down the international ranking – from 424th to 428th position.

While the University of Cape Town maintains its position as South Africa’s best placed tertiary institution – it also saw its ranking slide globally, from 226th in 2021/22 to 237th in 2022/23.

UJ vice-chancellor and principal, professor Tshilidzi Marwala said: “This is a tremendous achievement and recognition for UJ, considering that 2,462 institutions were analysed and 1,422 institutions were ranked in the 2023 edition of the QS World University Rankings.

“The latest global rankings reaffirm the fact that our academic programmes remain on par with international standards, as we continue with our mission to position UJ as the international university of choice, anchored in Africa and dynamically shaping the future.”

University 2022 ranking 2023 ranking
University of Cape Town 226 237
University of Johannesburg 434 412
University of the Witwatersrand 424 428
Stellenbosch University 482 454
University of Pretoria 601-650 591-600
Rhodes University 801-1000 801-1000
University of KwaZulu-Natal 801-1000 801-1000
North-West University 1001-1200 1001-1200
University of the Western Cape 1001-1200 1001-1200


The QS ranking is based on a mix of survey responses and hard data across six indicators, compiled and weighted to formulate a final score.

Over 80,000 academics and 40,000 employers contributed to the rankings through the QS global surveys, while QS said it analysed millions of citations from millions of papers, and 1,400 institutions were ranked.

The ranking’s biggest indicator, accounting for 40% of the total score, is based on academic reputation, using insights from 130,000 expert opinions.

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

The 2022/23 ranking features two new indicators – International Research Network and Employment Outcomes.

“These are both unweighted this year, which means they don’t affect the overall score or rank of a university. Instead, they have been included so QS can gather feedback from institutions ahead of fully including them within the ranking in next year’s methodology,” the group said.

The current indicators and scores are:

  • Academic reputation (40%)
  • Employer reputation (10%)
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
  • Citations per faculty (20%)
  • International faculty ratio (5%)
  • International student ratio (5%)

Global performance

Globally, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) continues its unbroken streak as the world’s best tertiary institution.

For the 11th straight year, MIT remains the world’s number one university by QS’ metrics. The University of Cambridge has climbed above the University of Oxford to now be the top university in the UK, while Stanford University and Harvard University have retained their position from last year.

While there are no new entrants in this year’s top 10, Cornell University has climbed back into the world’s top 20, having fallen out last year. Peking University continues to climb the rankings having risen from 38th five years ago to now be ranked 12th.

Read: University fee changes planned for South Africa

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