The best universities in South Africa to study science, engineering and business

 ·10 Apr 2024

The latest edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject has been published – featuring 10 South African universities with courses that are among the top 500 in the world.

The QS rankings identify which subjects universities are particularly strong in relative to international competitors, focusing specifically on academic reputation and research output.

The ranking is an independent comparative analysis of over 16,000 university programmes at 1,500 universities in 95 countries and territories across 55 academic subjects.

Research citations, along with the results of major global surveys of employers and academics, are also used to rank the universities.

The United States of America (US) dominated the rankings, featuring 213 ranked universities, with 244 of these ranking among the top 10 for one or more disciplines.

Harvard University is the world’s strongest-performing institution, first in 19 disciplines. MIT follows, leading in 11 subjects.

South Africa

South African universities ranked in 39 of the 55 subjects covered in the QS listing, with a particularly strong showing in Engineering, Medicine and Natural Sciences.

The best performances were seen in Development Studies, Mining and Mineral Engineering, Veterinary Sciences, Geography, and Agriculture & Forestry.

The University of Cape Town ranked the top institution in most subjects in South Africa (32), followed by the University of Pretoria (6), Wits (3), Stellenbosch University (2), Unisa (1) and UKZN (1).

University of Cape Town (UCT) campus, Western Cape.

Other South African universities ranked include the University of Johannesburg (UJ) (21 subjects), North-West University (3), the University of the Western Cape (2), and the International Hotel School (1).

Considering the scale of the rankings, we looked at which of South Africa’s best universities was ranked among the top 500 by subject, separated into five disciplines.

These five disciplines – and the subjects South Africa managed to rank among the top 500 under these disciplines – are:

  • Arts & Humanities: Archaeology, Architecture, English Language, History, and Theology.
  • Engineering & Technology: Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical, Aeronautical, & Manufacturing Engineering, and Mining and Mineral Engineering.
  • Life Sciences & Medicine: Agriculture, Biology, Medicine, Pharmacy, Psychology, and Veterinary Science.
  • Natural Sciences: Chemistry, Earth & Marine Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Geography, Geology, Geophysics, Mathematics, Materials Science, and Physics.
  • Social Sciences & Management: Accounting, Anthropology, Business, Communication, Development Studies, Economics & Econometrics, Education, Hospitality, Law, and Sociology.

The tables below show the best-ranked universities in South Africa for each of the five disciplines, including its 2024 rank compared to last year.


Arts & Humanities

#University2023 rank2024 rank
1UCT192214
2Stellenbosch333312
3Wits293325
4University of Pretoria341391
5UJ401-450401-450

Engineering & Technology

#University2023 rank2024 rank
1UCT270290
2University of Pretoria284334
3UJ451-500401-450
4Wits391401-450
5Stellenbosch 401-450451-500

Life Sciences & Medicine

#University2023 rank2024 rank
1UCT113117
2Stellenbosch243238
3Wits236273
4University of Pretoria325314
5UKZN340351

Natural Sciences

#University2023 rank2024 rank
1UCT215233
2Wits320350
3Stellenbosch 451-500401-450
4UJ401-450401-450
5UKZN451-500401-450
6University of Pretoria451-500401-450

Social Sciences & Management

#University2023 rank2024 rank
1UCT180222
2University of Pretoria283318
3Wits358382
4Stellenbosch368394
5UJ451-500401-450

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