The 11 best universities in South Africa – with two climbing the global rankings

 ·5 Jun 2024

Quacquarelli Symonds has published its latest QS World University Rankings and has named the University of Cape Town (UCT) as the best university in South Africa.

The 2025 edition of the rankings features over 1,500 institutions, drawing on the analysis of 17.5 million academic papers and the expert opinions of over 240,000 academic faculty and employers.

In the ranking, 11 Southe African universities made the cut into the top 1,500, with many of the top institutions improving their overall scores.

However, the University of Cape Town and the University of KwaZulu Natal were the only top universities to climb the ranking itself, with UCT moving up two places, and UKZN entering the top 600, placing 587th overall.

The other local universities slid down the rankings or into a lower ranking range, or stayed within the same broad range.

Despite this, scores improved between 0.2 and 1.3 points, with the University of Pretoria slipping 0.6 points among the local universities ranked in the top 600.

Below are the rankings of the 11 best South African Universities in South Africa, according to the QS World University Rankings.

University2024 Rank2025 Rank2024 Score2025 Score
University of Cape Town17317148.750.0
University of Witwatersrand26426737.938.7
Stellenbosch University28329636.536.7
University of Johannesburg30631234.035.0
University of Pretoria32335432.832.2
University of Kwazulu-Natal621-63058721.1
North-West University801-850851-900
University of South Africa851-900851-900
Rhodes University901-950951-1000
University of the Western Cape951-1000951-1000
University of the Free State1001-12001001-1200

The QS rankings measure performance across five performance lenses broken down into nine indicators in total that carry different weights.

  • Research and Discovery: Accounts for 50% of the ranking, with two indicators: Academic Reputation (30%) and Citations per Faculty (20%), by faculty QS means the academic staff.
  • Employability and Outcomes: Accounts for 20%, with two indicators: Employer Reputation (15%) and Employment Outcomes (5%).
  • Learning Experience: Accounts for 10%, with a single indicator: Faculty Student Ratio (10%), which is just the ratio of academic staff to students.
  • Global Engagement: Accounts for 15%, with three indicators: International Research Network (5%), International Faculty (5%) (again, this refers to the international academic staff), and International Students (5%).
  • Sustainability: Accounts for 5% with a single eponymous indicator: Sustainability (5%).

This global ranking is the first to incorporate both sustainability and employability factors as key measures into its methodology.  

Since the 2024 ranking, the group has added a five per cent weight to Sustainability to reflect the crucial role universities play in charting the course and driving change towards a more sustainable future.

Global Universities

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has ranked in the top spot for its thirteenth year, while Imperial College London has climbed to second place.

The University of Oxford and Harvard University are in third and fourth place, respectively. The University of Cambridge rounds out the top five.

Read: What you need to save to send your child to university in South Africa – starting from when they’re born

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