The 13 best universities in South Africa – with four among the top 500 in the world

 ·13 May 2024

Four South African universities have ranked among the top 500 tertiary institutions in the world in the latest Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) for 2024.

The latest ranking brings South Africa up to 13 universities ranked in the global listing, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) again leading the pack, followed by Wits, Stellenbosch and the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN).

These four universities all cracked the top 500 list, with the University of Pretoria—ranked 538th globally—eyeing an entry into this space.

Of the 13 South African universities ranked in 2024, eight improved their position in the global rankings, with five dropping on the list. This includes UCT, Wits and UKZN.

The CWUR grades universities on four factors without relying on surveys and university data submissions: education (25%), employability (25%), faculty (10%), and research (40%). This year, 62 million outcome-based data points were analyzed for the rankings.

The CWUR only lists the top 2,000 universities out of 20,966 institutions ranked – meaning all the universities features are considered the top 10% of tertiary institutes in the world.

South Africa’s top seven universities are in the top 5%, but only UCT and Wits crack the top 2%. No South African universities are in the top 1%.

The local ranking remains relatively unchanged from last year, with only two changes – the first being the University of South Africa (UNISA) climbing ahead of Rhodes University and the second being the re-entry of the Tshwane University of Technology into the full ranking.

271267University of Cape Town77.4
291290University of the Witwatersrand77.1
440450Stellenbosch University75.0
483478University of KwaZulu Natal74.5
538557University of Pretoria74.0
624628University of Johannesburg73.2
869887North-West University71.3
11271160University of the Free State69.8
11541188University of the Western Cape69.6
12931338University of South Africa68.9
13211300Rhodes University68.8
17071658Nelson Mandela University67.2
1959Tshwane University of Technology66.2

Global ranking

Globally, these are the 10 best universities in the world:

  1. Harvard University
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of Cambridge
  5. University of Oxford
  6. Princeton University
  7. Columbia University
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Yale University
  10. California Institute of Technology

The US has eight representatives in the top 10 and is the most represented country in the top 2000, with 329 universities.

Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are the most cited universities in the world, and all Ivy League institutions feature in the top-70 this year.

In China, the number of universities in the top 2000 is now 324, with all C9 League institutions improving this year.

Japan – led by the University of Tokyo in 13th place – has 110 top 2,000 institutions.

The number of UK institutions in the top 2000 this year is 92. The University of Cambridge is the top public university in the world for the 11th year in a row.

France – led by PSL University at number 19 – has 73 representatives in the top 2000.

Russia, led by Moscow State University at number 233, features 46 institutions in the top 2000.

Elsewhere, the University of Melbourne ranks first in Oceania, the University of São Paulo tops Latin America.

Read: University dropout crisis for South Africa

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