The 12 best universities in South Africa

 ·15 May 2023

The University of Cape Town (UCT) remains the best university in South Africa, according to the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR).

The CWUR said that UCT climbed three spots in the global rankings to 267th, improving its employability and research performance. However, the university’s quality of education indicator did decline.

The University of Witwatersrand was the second-best-placed university in the country and climbed two spots to 290th on the global rankings.

Stellenbosh University was named the third-best university in South Africa, but its global rankings dropped nine places to 450th.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (478) and the University of Pretoria (557) were the fourth and fifth highest-ranked universities in South Africa, respectively.

The top ten also featured the University of Johannesburg (628), North-West University (887), the University of the Free State (1160), the University of Western Cape (1188), and Rhodes University (1300).

The local ranking remains relatively unchanged from last year, with the only change seeing Rhodes University overtake the University of South Africa into tenth place.

Although seven of the 12 South African universities saw their global rankings drop, not a single university saw their overall score decline, with 9 of the 12 universities increasing their scores from the previous study.

“While South Africa is well represented in this year’s rankings, the country’s top institutions are under increasing pressure from well-funded universities from around the world,” Dr. Nadim Mahassen, President of the Center for World University Rankings, said.

“Funding to further promote the development and reputation of South Africa’s higher education system is vital if the country aspires to be more competitive globally.”

“Efforts must be made to ensure that South Africa attracts top academics and students, that increasing enrollment numbers at universities come alongside increases in teaching capacity, and that tertiary education expenditure as a percentage of the national GDP steadily grows in the years to come.”

Below are the rankings of South Africa’s best universities:

2023 Rank 2022 Rank University 2023 Score (2022)
267 270 University of Cape Town 77.4 (77.2)
290 292 University of Witwatersrand 77.0 (76.9 )
450 441 Stellenbosch University 74.8 (74.8)
478 484 University of KwaZulu-Natal 74.5 (74.3)
557 555 University of Pretoria 73.7 (73.6)
628 629 University of Johannesburg 73.1 (72.9)
887 880 North-West University 71.0 (70.7)
1160 1126 University of the Free State 69.5 (69.5)
1188 1186 University of the Western Cape 69.2 (69.2)
1300 1302 Rhodes University 68.8 (68.6)
1338 1304 University of South Africa 68.6 (68.6)
1658 1636 Nelson Mandela University 67.2 (67.1)


Harvard, for the twelfth year in a row, is the best university in the world and is followed by two other US institutions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford.

England’s Cambridge and Oxford make up the fourth and fifth spots, while the rest of the top 10 is completed by private US universities.

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

  1. Harvard University (1)
  2. MIT (2)
  3. Stanford University (3)
  4. University of Cambridge (4)
  5. University of Oxford (5)
  6. Princeton University (6)
  7. University of Chicago (7)
  8. Columbia University (8)
  9. University of Pennsylvania (9)
  10. Yale University (11)

Although the US dominates the global rankings, the CWUR said that its institutions are also at risk due to increasing global competition.

“While the results of this year’s study confirm that the US has the top higher education system in the world, the broader story for the US is concerning, with nearly eighty percent of American universities falling down the standings due to intensified global competition from well-funded institutions, particularly from China,” Mahassen said.

“The overall slide of US universities mirrors those of French, German, and Japanese institutions, while the declines of UK and Russian universities have been less severe. With Chinese institutions challenging their Western counterparts, American and European universities cannot afford to rest on their laurels.”

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