Three-quarters of SA universities fall in global rankings

Three-quarters of SA universities fall in global rankings
Three-quarters of SA universities fall in global rankings

Africa-PressSouth-Africa. Key Facts:

* The University of Cape Town tops the country as South Africa declines sharply.

* The national picture is cause for concern amid intensified global competition from well-funded institutions.

* Harvard leads globally while 93% of Chinese universities rise on the back of continued investment in higher education.

But the concern is that South Africa is struggling to compete against rivals worldwide, with three-quarters of its universities slipping down. In the global top 2000, three universities from South Africa improve from last year, with 10 falling down the rankings.

The main factor for the decline is research performance, amid intensified global competition from well-funded institutions. In the global 2000 list, four universities from South Africa rank better than last year in research performance, with nine ranking lower.

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) grades universities on four factors: quality of education (25%), alumni employment (25%), quality of faculty (10%), and research performance (40%). This year, 19 788 institutions are ranked, and those that placed at the top made the global 2 000 list.

Globally, the University of Cape Town falls one spot to 269th, with declines in the quality of education and research performance indicators, but improves in the alumni employment metric.

The University of the Witwatersrand drops 17 places to 292nd, while Stellenbosch University falls six spots to 435th, ahead of the University of KwaZulu-Natal at number 483 and University of Pretoria in 580th position.

The South African top 10 is rounded out by the University of Johannesburg (674), North-West University (924), University of the Free State (1 163), the University of Western Cape (1 239), and Rhodes University (1 313).

Regionally, South African universities occupy the top four positions on the continent, ahead of Cairo University. Among Africa’s top 10 institutions, seven are from South Africa, two from Egypt, and one from Uganda.

Nationally, the University of Cape Town ranks first in quality of education, ahead of the University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes University.

On the alumni employment indicator, the University of the Witwatersrand leads the country and ranks 98th worldwide, followed by Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town.

As for research performance, the top universities in South Africa are the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand, and Stellenbosch University.

Commenting on the national picture, Dr Nadim Mahassen, the president of the Center for World University Rankings, said: “It is encouraging to see 13 institutions from South Africa among the world’s best.

“However, the broader story for the country is more concerning, with three-quarters of its universities falling down the standings due to declining research performance and intensified global competition from well-funded institutions.

“To compete globally, the government needs to invest more in public universities. This will enable them to improve both research productivity and research quality by producing more research articles in high-quality journals, which will naturally lead to more citations within the academic community. High-quality research is crucial not only to university rankings, but also to the advancement of South African society.”

Commenting on the global picture, Dr Mahassen added: “This year’s rankings confirm that the United States is still the dominant force in global higher education. However, it is a worrying time for US universities, with nearly three-quarters of its institutions slumping in the league table.

“The overall slide of US universities in the rankings mirrors those of UK and French institutions as a result of increased funding for higher education in countries such as China and Russia. Chinese institutions and, to a lesser extent, those from Russia are starting to challenge their Western counterparts, and US and Western European universities cannot afford to be complacent.”

For the 10th year in a row, Harvard is the top university globally. Its dominance in the standings is attributed to ranking first worldwide across all indicators. MIT maintains its second spot again this year ahead of Stanford, Cambridge, and Oxford. Princeton overtakes Columbia on the back of gains in the education and research performance indicators, while Chicago jumps ahead of Pennsylvania thanks to improvements in the alumni employment and quality of faculty metrics. Yale rounds out the global top 10.

USA and Canada:

The US, despite claiming eight of the top 10 places globally, is struggling to maintain its dominance against rivals worldwide with nearly three-quarters of American universities slipping down. In the global top 2 000, only 69 US institutions improve from last year, with 22 maintaining their spots, and 256 falling down the standings. All Ivy League institutions feature in the global top 70 this year. Overall, the US is the most represented country in the global 2 000 with 347 representatives – 10 less than last year. Canada has 42 institutions in the table, led by the University of Toronto, at number 24.


Europe remains an important power player in the standings with 32 institutions in the top 100 and 655 in the top 2 000, but the picture for 2021 is mixed amid growing global competition.

In the UK, the University of Cambridge ranks first among public universities worldwide, and places fourth overall ahead of Oxford.

But the success of Cambridge and Oxford masks the decline of nearly two-thirds of the UK institutions in the rankings. In the global top 2 000, only 29 UK universities improve from last year, with five maintaining their spots, and 61 falling down the standings. Of Russell Group’s 24 members of research-intensive universities, five institutions rank better compared to last year, five maintain their spots, and 14 rank lower. Overall, the UK has 95 representatives – the same as last year.

France has five universities in the top 50 – one less than the UK. The top French institution for the second year in a row is PSL University, ranking 21st worldwide. Only 14 French institutions fare better than last year, with four maintaining their spots, and 61 falling down the rankings. France has 79 institutions – three less than last year – among the world’s best 2 000 universities.

Germany has 70 institutions in the table this year, led by the University of Munich at number 44. Eight of the top 10 German universities see their rankings improve from last year. However, overall, 39 out of 70 decline.

Russia has 46 representatives in the global top 2 000 – the same as last year – with 24 institutions moving up and 22 falling down the standings. The top Russian university this year is Moscow State University, ranking 194th worldwide.


It is a mixed picture for Asia. China’s rapid rise in the standings is due to the country’s continued investment in higher education, especially under the Double First-Class University Plan. Ninety-three percent of Chinese universities rank better than last year, headed by Tsinghua University at number 58, which overtakes Peking University for the first time as China’s leading university. All nine institutions of the C9 League, the Chinese version of the US Ivy League, saw improvements this year. In total, China has 277 representatives, up from 267 a year ago. While the University of Tokyo isAsia’s highest ranked institution, ranking 13th worldwide, 81% of Japan’s 124 representatives lost ground this year.


The University of Melbourne (63) ranks first in Oceania, while the University of São Paulo (105) tops Latin America and the Caribbean.

Source: Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) a link to the full results at


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