The best universities in South Africa

Eight South African universities have been listed among the top 100 universities in the BRICS nations – though in a weaker position than in 2014.

This is according to the latest QS University Rankings: BRICS for 2015.

The QS rankings looked at over 500 universities in the BRICS countries, and evaluated 400 for the list.

The 2015 results show that China has strengthening its dominant position while India has seen a rise of more than 50% in the number of institutions listed in the top 200.

South Africa is significantly behind its emerging market counterparts, with only 14 institutions evaluated, however, it’s population is almost 20 times smaller than the two most populous countries in the world.

Of the 14 universities, only one was ranked in the top 20, four within the top 50, eight in the top 100, and 11 in the top 200.

BRICS Country Top 10 Top 20 Top 50 Top 100 Top 200 Top 400
China 7 9 21 39 67 110
India 1 5 9 15 31 94
Brazil 1 2 10 18 40 93
Russia 1 2 7 20 53 93
South Africa 0 1 4 8 11 14

“South Africa is the smallest of the BRICS nations by some distance. Its population of 54 million would add up to a single province in China, home to 1.37 billion people,” said QS advisory board chair, Martin Ince.

“In addition, South Africa has ferocious social and political problems to which there is no overnight solution.”

However, Ince pointed out that the country is also a technologically advanced nation, and the richest per capita in Africa.

“In the QS World University Rankings, South Africa emerges by a wide margin as the continent’s leading power in higher education.”

South Africa’s top universities

2015 Rank 2014 Rank University
14 9 University of Cape Town
28 31 University of the Witwatersrand
34 34 Stellenbosch University
49 46 University of Pretoria
67 63 University of Johannesburg
68 60 University of KwaZulu Natal
79 76 Rhodes University
100 92 University of the Western Cape
121-130 101-110 University of the Free State
151-200 151-200 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
151-200 151-200 North-West University
201+ 201+ University of Fort Hare
201+ 201+ University of Limpopo
201+ 201+ University of Zululand

South Africa’s top institution, University of Cape Town, is in 14th place in the QS University Rankings: BRICS, down five places from 2014.

“UCT is the country’s top institution on almost any measure, and is the best-placed of 11 South African universities among the top 200,” the group said.

“This means that South Africa has 5.5% of the BRICS’ top universities despite comprising only 1.7% of the population of the BRICS nations.”

It is notable that of the 11 SA universities  in the top 200, seven are in a lower position than in 2014.

The University of the Free State has fallen from the 101-110 bracket to 121-130, while the University of Kwazulu-Natal fell eight places from 60 to 68.

According to the QS group, a clear idea of the problems facing South Africa’s universities emerges from an analysis of the faculty/student ratio.

“The best-performing South African institution here is the University of Johannesburg. It is placed 164th in the BRICS region on this measure,” the group said.

Cape Town was ranked at 184th and no other South African university was ranked above 200.

“These are poor results which have been getting poorer. Nine of the 11 institutions we list from South Africa have fallen on this measure since 2014.”

QS methodology

The QS ranking uses the following eight, weighted indicators to determine its list:

  1. Academic reputation (30%) – based on a major global survey of academics, who are asked to identify the top-performing universities in their own field.
  2. Employer reputation (20%) – based on a major global survey of graduate employers, who are asked to identify the universities that produce the best graduates.
  3. Faculty/student ratio (20%) – based on the number of students enrolled per academic faculty member employed (this aims to give an idea of commitment to teaching quality).
  4. Staff with a PhD (10%) – based on the ratio of academic staff members with a PhD.
  5. Papers per faculty (10%) – based on the number of research papers published per academic staff member.
  6. Citations per paper (5%) – based on the frequency with which the institution’s research is cited by other researchers.
  7. International faculty (2.5%) – based on the percentage of faculty members who are international.
  8. International students (2.5%) – based on the percentage of students who are international.

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The best universities in South Africa