New ranking of the top universities in South Africa working to make the world a better place

 ·4 Jun 2023

The Times Higher Education Impact rankings show that the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is the best university in South Africa when it comes to reaching the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 2023 Impacts rating assessed 1,591 universities from 112 countries looking at several indicators to provide a balanced comparison across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

The rankings recognise and shine a spotlight on universities for their commitment and contribution to sustainability, societal impact and innovation.

The group uses carefully calibrated indicators to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

Research is the most obvious and traditional way that a university might help to deliver the SDGs is by creating research in relevant topics.

Stewardship refers to universities being custodians of significant resources; not just physical resources, but also their employees, faculty and students. How they act as stewards is one of the key factors in delivering the SDGs.

Outreach refers to place, which THE said is critical in higher education and the work universities do with their local, regional, national and international communities. This is another key way that they can have an impact on sustainability.

Teaching, meanwhile, plays a critical role, both in ensuring that there are enough skilled practitioners to deliver on the SDGs, and in making sure that all alumni take forward the key lessons of sustainability into their future careers.

Which SDGs are included?

There are 17 UN SDGs, and university performance is evaluated on all of them.

  • SDG 1 – no poverty
  • SDG 2 – zero hunger
  • SDG 3 – good health and well-being
  • SDG 4 – quality education
  • SDG 5 – gender equality
  • SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7 – affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 8 – decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 9 – industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • SDG 10 – reduced inequalities
  • SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12 – responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 13 – climate action
  • SDG 14 – life below water
  • SDG 15 – life on land
  • SDG 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions
  • SDG 17 – partnerships for the goals

According to tHE, universities submit data on as many of these SDGs as they are able. Each SDG has a series of metrics that are used to evaluate the performance of the university in that SDG.

Any university that provides data on SDG 17 and at least three other SDGs is included in the overall ranking.

A record 1,707 institutions from around the world submitted data and evidence to participate in the 2023 iteration, the fifth instalment, of the THE Impact Rankings, which are the first to measure the progress of universities across the globe towards the 17 United Nations SDGs.

According to the rankings, UJ is the best university in South Africa and the 46th best university globally, with an overall score of 91.8.

UJ was ranked number one internationally in the ‘no poverty’ indicator.

“It is gratifying to see that our University has once again been recognised highly for its significant contribution to societal impact, sustainability and innovation, through the SDGs. We are very proud of this achievement and excited to see even more outputs from our scholars in the near future,” it said.

The University of Pretoria (UP) was second in South Africa and 60th overall.

“It is clear that African universities are taking a lead in improving social realities, and UP takes pride in its contribution towards this and continuing its mission to make UP the university of choice, anchored in Africa and dynamically shaping the world.

“Although rankings are not the best and only way to measure universities’ contribution to society, this ranking aligns with UP’s strategy to deliver greater societal impact and to contribute to sustainable futures for humanity and our planet,” UP said.

Despite usually being at the top of South African university rankings, the Universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand had to settle for 3rd and 4th spot, respectively.

#SA International Ranking University Score
1 46 University of Johannesburg 91.8
2 60 University of Pretoria 90.4
3 101-200 University of Cape Town 82.2–88.2
3 101-200 University of the Witwatersrand 82.2–88.2
5 401-600 Nelson Mandela University 66.9–72.6
5 401-600 University of the Western Cape 66.9–72.6
7 601-800 University of South Africa 59.7–66.7
8 801-1000 Durban University of Technology 53.9–59.6

Global rankings 

Internationally, Australia’s Western Sydney University was named the best university for the second year in a row, with a score of 99.4.

The University of Manchester (97.5) in England and Canada-based Queen’s University (97.2) completed the top three.

In the top 100, the UK is the best represented nation with 26 universities, followed by Australia’s 16.

The top international universities are as follows:

  1. Western Sydney University, AUS (99.4)
  2. University of Manchester, UK (97.5)
  3. Queen’s University, CAN (97.2)
  4. University Sains Malaysia, Mal (96.9)
  5. University of Tasmania, AUS (96.6)
  6. Arizona State University, US (96.5)
  7. University of Alberta, CAN and RMIT University, AUS (96.4)
  8. Aalborg University, DEN and University of Victoria, CAN and Western University, CAN (95.8)

Read: The pros and cons of boarding schools in South Africa

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