South Africa’s universities rank among the top 100 in the world for these subjects – including space science

 ·2 Nov 2022

US News has published its latest Best Global University Ranking for 2022/23, listing 13 South African universities among the best in the world – four of which have ranked among the top 100 schools in nine subjects.

The rankings looked at the top 2,000 tertiary institutions globally, ranking them with a specific focus on schools’ academic research and reputation overall – not on their separate undergraduate or graduate programs.

On top of the global ranking, US News looked at where universities ranked in 47 subject fields. The 13 South African institutions that made the 2022/23 list also found their way onto rankings across many of these fields, ranking within the top 100 in nine of them.

The University of Cape Town was the most highly-ranked local university, appearing in the top 100 five times. This is followed by the University of the Witwatersrand, UKZN and the University of Pretoria with two top-100 rankings, as well as the Tshwane University of Technology featuring once.

Overall, South Africa’s universities are most represented in the fields of infectious diseases, immunology, public health and ecology. However, a few schools stand out uniquely in other fields.

For instance, the Tshwane University of Technology ranks 36th in the world in the field of optics – while the University of Pretoria ranks 85th overall for business and economics. The University of KwaZulu Natal, meanwhile, ranks within the top 100 for space science.

The tables below outline the top subjects at all 13 South African universities ranked – with top-100 subjects highlighted in green.

University of Cape Town

Subject Rank
Infectious Diseases 24
Immunology 51
Public, Environmental and Occupational Health 51
Social Sciences and Public Health 66
Psychiatry / Psychology 90
Clinical Medicine 110
Environment / Ecology 110
Microbiology 143
Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems 145
Plant and Animal Science 150
Neuroscience and Behaviour 166
Geosciences 175
Arts and Humanities 180
Space Science 186
Surgery 191
Physics 209
Molecular Biology and Genetics 214
Biology and Biochemistry 273
Pharmacology and Toxicology 297
Chemistry 655
Engineering 798

University of KwaZulu Natal

Subject Rank
Infectious Diseases 73
Space Science 93
Immunology 121
Public, Environmental and Occupational Health 125
Pharmacology and Toxicology 222
Agricultural Science 235
Clinical Medicine 267
Plant and Animal Science 283
Social Sciences and Public Health 303
Environment/Ecology 330
Geosciences 362
Chemistry 438
Biology and Biochemistry 490
Physical Chemistry 500
Engineering 597
Physics 636
Computer Science 685

Stellenbosch University

Subject Rank
Infectious Diseases 105
Environment / Ecology 110
Public, Environmental and Occupational Health 123
Agricultural Science 124
Food Science and Technology 127
Plant and Animal Science 147
Immunology 160
Arts and Humanities 199
Clinical Medicine 212
Psychiatry / Psychology 214
Social Sciences and Public Health 214
Microbiology 240
Biotechnology 249
Biology and Biochemistry 266
Geosciences 369
Engineering 643
Chemistry 755

University of Pretoria

Subject Rank
Plant and Animal Science 58
Economics and Business 85
Infectious Diseases 156
Microbiology 170
Arts and Humanities 188
Environment / Ecology 214
Engineering 353
Mathematics 365
Biology and Biochemistry 417
Electrical and Electronic Engineering 434
Social Sciences and Public Health 451
Computer Science 508
Clinical Medicine 510
Chemistry 673

University of the Witwatersrand

Subject Rank
Infectious Diseases 40
Public, Environmental and Occupational Health 45
Immunology 107
Social Sciences and Public Health 126
Arts and Humanities 166
Clinical Medicine 182
Physics 206
Geosciences 222
Environment / Ecology 365
Mathematics 374
Plant and Animal Science 374
Chemistry 526
Engineering 763

University of Johannesburg

Subject Rank
Social Sciences and Public Health 168
Physical Chemistry 231
Geosciences 246
Chemistry 277
Physics 292
Plant and Animal Science 407
Engineering 415
Environment/Ecology 467
Computer Science 566
Materials Science 579

North-West University

Subject Rank
Space Science 241
Clinical Medicine 300
Psychiatry / Psychology 333
Environment / Ecology 376
Social Sciences and Public Health 376
Plant and Animal Science 429
Chemistry 561
Engineering 652

University of South Africa

Subject Rank
Materials Science 511
Chemistry 561
Physics 628
Engineering 837

University of the Western Cape

Subject Rank
Space Science 113
Social Sciences and Public Health 376
Clinical Medicine 533

Tshwane University of Technology

Subject Rank
Optics 36
Engineering 593
Physics 627

Nelson Mandela University

Subject Rank
Environment / Ecology 337
Plant and Animal Science 441

University of the Free State

Subject Rank
Plant and Animal Science 444
Physics 597

Rhodes University

Subject Rank
Space Science 172
Plant and Animal Science 430


In assessing the subjects for the ranking, the data and metrics used in the ranking were provided by Clarivate. The bibliometric data was based on the Web of Science.

Papers are limited to those published between 2016 and 2020. However, the citations to those papers come from all publications up to the most recent data available. For the 2022-2023 edition, this cutoff was May 29, 2022, with an InCites publication of June 28, 2022.

It is necessary to use a slightly older window of publication to allow citations to accumulate and provide statistically relevant results, US News said.

The use of survey data and published information is used with a host of other data points using the following indicators and weighting:

  • Global research reputation – 12.5%
  • Regional research reputation – 12.5%
  • Publications – 10%
  • Books – 2.5%
  • Conferences – 2.5%
  • Normalized citation impact – 10%
  • Total citations – 7.5%
  • Number of publications that are among the 10% most cited – 12.5%
  • Percentage of total publications that are among the 10% most cited – 10%
  • International collaboration – relative to country – 5%
  • International collaboration – 5%
  • Number of highly cited papers that are among the top 1% most cited in their respective field – 5%

Read: These 7 universities in South Africa are ranked among the top 500 in the world

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