The best universities for maths and science in South Africa

According to the World Economic Forum, South Africa has the worst maths and science skills in the world – but that hasn’t stopped individuals from excelling in the field, nor South African institutions from shining through.

The CWTS Leiden Ranking for 2016 shows which institutions had the best scientific performance out of over 800 major universities worldwide – with five South African universities making the cut.

The ranking is based exclusively on bibliographic data from the Web of Science database produced by Thomson Reuters, across a number of science indices, including maths, science, social science and arts and humanities.

The overall ranking works by not only looking at the amount of published work, but also how often a university’s work is cited in relation to other published work on the same or similar subject.

Leiden enriches the data through its own citation matching processes and assigning research to universities in the most consistent and accurate way possible.

“Universities may be referred to using many different name variants, and the definition and delimitation of universities is not obvious at all,” it said.

Notably, the ranking does not take into account conference proceedings publications and book publications.

Overall, four of the five ranked SA institutes are within the top 500, with the University of Pretoria narrowly missing out, at 512th.

As with all (except one) university rankings in the country, the University of Cape Town is once again ranked as the best university in South Africa, ranked 378th overall.

G# University Score
378 University of Cape Town 2681
447 University of KwaZulu Natal 2293
468 Stellenbosch University 2189
472 University of the Witwatersrand 2184
512 University of Pretoria 1947

However, when looking at the different fields of science, it becomes clear that each of the top science universities in the country have their own forte.

UCT excels at the biomedical and social sciences, but the University of KwaZulu Natal (2nd in SA and 447th overall) ranks top for physical science and engineering.

In terms of mathematics and computers, the University of Pretoria is ranked as the best university in the country.

The following tables show the best universities based on the field of science, as well as the top and bottom score range on the global scale.

Biomedical sciences

UCT Cape Town2

ZA# University Score
1 University of Cape Town 1160
2 University of the Witwatersrand 840
3 Stellenbosch University 726
4 University of KwaZulu Natal 601
5 University of Pretoria 497

Life and earth sciences


ZA# University Score
1 Stellenbosch University 721
2 University of Pretoria 689
3 University of KwaZulu Natal 684
4 University of Cape Town 598
5 University of the Witwatersrand 362

Mathematics and computer sciences

University of Pretoria

ZA# University Score
1 University of Pretoria 200
2 University of the Witwatersrand 150
3 Stellenbosch University 138
4 University of KwaZulu Natal 125
5 University of Cape Town 100

Physical science and engineering


ZA# University Score
1 University of KwaZulu Natal 710
2 University of the Witwatersrand 565
3 University of Cape Town 464
4 Stellenbosch University 433
5 University of Pretoria 337

Social Sciences and humanities

University of Cape Town

ZA# University Score
1 University of Cape Town 358
2 University of the Witwatersrand 268
3 University of Pretoria 224
4 University of KwaZulu Natal 173
5 Stellenbosch University 172

More on maths and science in SA

South African student scores highest maths mark in the world

Only four out of 10 SA matrics will write maths this year

Nearly 1,500 senior public schools in SA do not offer maths

SA bottom of global maths and science list

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The best universities for maths and science in South Africa