UCT still South Africa’s top university – but there’s a new number two

The latest QS World University Rankings has been released for 2017/18, showing which South African universities have the best global reputation – and which ones are struggling.

The University of Cape Town remains the leading university in South Africa in the QS rankings, which focuses on an institute’s global academic reputation.

In the 2016/17 ranking UCT dropped as many as 20 places to 191st worldwide – however, it managed to stop a further slide and held on to the rank in the 2017/18 list. UCT remains the highest rank university in Africa.

Wits dropped 28 places to 359th in 2016, and continued to fall – down a further five spots in 2017, now ranked third below the University of Stellenbosch, which climbed 34 places to become the second-ranked university in the country.

Stellenbosch’s rise is a continuing trend, having climbed back into the top 400 – to 395th place in 2016‚ from the 401-410 band in 2015.

Aside from Stellies, the University of Pretoria was the only other university to advance in the global rankings, moving from the 551-600 band to the 501-550 bank.

Rhodes University, and University of KwaZulu-Natal both dropped down the rankings, while the University of Johannesburg was stable from the prior year’s ranking. Rhodes’ drop placed it below UJ, overall.

Relative newcomers to the list – which has been expanded to include 916 universities (800 in 2015) – North West University and the University of the Western Cape both ranked outside the top 800 institutions.

Top universities in South Africa

2017/18 2016/17 University
191 191 University of Cape Town
361 395 Stellenbosch University
364 359 University of Witwatersrand
501-550 551-600 University of Pretoria
601-650 601-650 University of Johannesburg
701-750 551-600 Rhodes University
701-750 651-700 University of KwaZulu Natal
801-1000 701+ North-West University
801-1000 701+ University of the Western Cape

According to QS, while there was once a time where the best universities in the world only came from a select number of countries, large-scale investment in the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and elsewhere in the world has levelled the playing field somewhat.

However, Africa remains fairly underrepresented in the rankings, with only the University of Cape Town managing to hold its own in the top 200.

For the sixth year running, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led the way to be ranked the best universities in the world. The top four universities are all based in the US, with Stanford, Harvard and the California Institute of Technology all following hot on MIT’s heels.

UK universities continued to slide down the rankings, QS said, with 51 of 76 British universities falling at least one place. This includes 11 of the 16 ranked Russell Group universities, the highest-ranked of which is the University of Cambridge in fifth.


The QSWUR is based on a mix of survey responses and hard data across six indicators, compiled and weighted to formulate a final score.

Over 70,000 academics and 30,000 employers contributed to the rankings through the QS global surveys, while QS said it analyzed 99 million citations from 10.3 million papers, and 950 institutions were ranked.

The ranking’s biggest indicator, accounting for 40% of the total score, is based on academic reputation.

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

The indicators and scores are:

  • Academic reputation (40%)
  • Employer reputation (10%)
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
  • Citations per faculty (20%)
  • International faculty ratio (5%)
  • International student ratio (5%)

Read: Ranking the 17 best universities in South Africa

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UCT still South Africa’s top university – but there’s a new number two