Four African universities are among the top 500 in the world for publication and citation frequency, according to the Leiden Ranking released this month.
The ranking assesses the scientific papers published in 12,000 journals between 2005 and 2009.
The four ranked universities are Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University).
UCT was ranked number 333 with 3,123 publications over the four years. Their average citation score was 5.42.
Stellenbosch University made its first appearance in the rankings at No. 432, with 2,296 articles published.
Stellenbosch had fewer publications than Pretoria and Wits but performed better in the rankings because it had a higher citation score. Collaboration with partners around the world is also taken into account.
Wits University came in at 445 with 2,372 publications, and the University of Pretoria at 489 with 2,498.
Russel Botman, rector of Stellenbosch University, ascribed his university’s success to the Hope Project, initiated to increase and improve research meeting the needs of society.
“Compared to any point in its history, Stellenbosch is now in a different league. This is thanks to the people of this university who are working together as a team – in an integrated, focused and interdisciplinary way,” Botman said on the university’s website.
The rankings are published by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University. The Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database is used to measure research output and impact.
The ranking considers only publications in natural and social sciences and excludes those in the arts and humanities.
A university must publish at least 1,200 papers over a period of four years to be included in the rankings, according to Ed Noyons, the assistant director at CWTS.
“Other African universities didn’t publish enough to get into the rankings,” Noyons told Research Africa in a telephone conversation on 7 December.
He said the ranking focused on research because it was an important aspect of universities’ work.
“I am not much in favour of rankings but they can help to give a university a view of where they stand. Knowing their weaknesses and strengths can help them know how to change policy to improve their standards,” he said.
Featuring in the research rankings can help institutions attract international funding, according to Rob Tijssen, an associate professor at the CWTS and a visiting professor at Stellenbosch University.
“The result shows that the university’s performance as a research institution is world class. Nowadays, this is extremely important for unlocking research funding, and attracting leading researchers and motivated students,” Tijssen said in a statement published on his university’s website.