New global ranking of all 26 universities in South Africa

 ·5 Mar 2023

Webometrics’ latest global ranking of universities in 2023 has ranked all of South Africa’s universities based on the quality, quantity, and access to their web content, using open data.

The “Webometrics Ranking of World Universities” is an initiative of the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group belonging to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), the largest public research body in Spain.

The research group’s ranking has a special focus on open access to data from global universities and lists institutions based on the quantity and quality of their web content.

The group stresses that the ranking has nothing to do with university websites – ie., the popularity, design or accessibility – but rather link analysis, which includes bibliographic citations used by other university rankings and also third-party involvement with university activities.

“Research output is also a key topic for webometrics, including not only formal – e-journals, repositories – publications but also informal scholarly communication.

“Web publication is cheaper, maintaining the high standards of quality of peer review processes. It could also reach much larger potential audiences, offering access to scientific knowledge to researchers and institutions located in developing countries and also to third parties (economic, industrial, political or cultural stakeholders) in their local community,” the group said.

Using webometrics, the group focused the 2022 ranking on three main indicators:

  • Visibility: The number of external networks (subnets) linking to the institution’s web pages ( weighted 50%)
  • Transparency or Openness: The number of citations from the Top 310 authors, excluding the top 30 outliers (10%)
  • Excellence: The number of papers amongst the top 10% most cited in each one of all 27 disciplines of the full database over the last five years (40%)

Because the ranking pulls its bibliographic data from many of the same sources, the list of top institutions closely follows that of other rankings. However, the Cybermetrics Lab says its ranking differentiates itself by excluding “subjective” indicators like feedback from surveys and unreliable reporting from the universities themselves.

The caveats to its data include bad naming practices by universities and sharing top-level domains – or changing these domains frequently – which can penalise their performance in the ranking.

Because of the web-based nature of the data collected, the Webometrics ranking also covers a staggering number of higher learning institutions – over 31,000 – including many of the smaller colleges and institutes often left out of other global rankings.

However, because all these institutions are ranked together, no distinction is explicitly made, so colleges, universities and theological seminaries are all listed together.

For South Africa, 123 higher learning institutes were ranked, falling between 246th and 29,531st in the world. South Africa has 26 public universities, including 12 traditional universities, six comprehensive universities, and eight universities of technology. All universities feature in the rankings.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) was the top-ranked university in the country, following the same trend seen in other university rankings.

UCT is followed by the University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria. These were the only universities ranked within the top 500 globally.

Within the top 1000, the University of KwaZulu Nata, the University of Johannesburg, Unisa and the University of the Western Cape follow.

The full ranking of South African universities is below:

Local # University Global #
1 University of Cape Town 246
2 University of the Witwatersrand 398
3 Stellenbosch University 438
4 University of Pretoria 450
5 University of KwaZulu Natal 598
6 University of Johannesburg 653
7 University of South Africa 795
8 University of the Western Cape 927
9 University of the Free State 1106
10 Rhodes University 1138
11 Cape Peninsula University of Technology 1593
12 North-West University 1668
13 Tshwane University of Technology 1717
14 Durban University of Technology 1856
15 University of Fort Hare 2339
16 University of Limpopo 2710
17 Nelson Mandela University 2715
18 University of Venda 2941
19 Vaal University of Technology 3198
20 Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University 3270
21 University of Zululand 3280
22 Central University of Technology 3570
23 Walter Sisulu University 3761
24 University of Mpumalanga 7935
25 Mangosuthu University of Technology 8262
26 Sol Plaatje University 9459

Global Universities

The ranking of global universities aligns closely with other global rankings, with Harvard University in the United States taking top honours.

This is followed by Standford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California Berkeley.

The top 10 is dominated by US institutes, with the only non-US institution in the top 10 being the University of Oxford, ranking 5th, while the University of Cambridge falls just outside the top 10 at 12th.

Global# University Country
1 Harvard University US
2 Stanford University US
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
4 University of California Berkeley US
5 University of Oxford UK
6 University of Michigan US
7 University of Washington US
8 Cornell University US
9 Columbia University New York US
10 Johns Hopkins University US

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