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Hope for SA universities in research-heavy ranking

Image: Ian Barbour [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

The latest edition of a US-produced university ranking released on 25 October makes encouraging reading for the beleaguered top universities in South Africa, with all showing impressive gains.

The University of Cape Town was the highest rated African university in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities ranking. At No.112, it was up 50 positions.

Other South African universities achieved significant improvements in their positions. The University of the Witwatersrand rose 62 places to 222 and Stellenbosch University was up 39 places to 368. The University of KwaZulu-Natal saw the biggest increase, rising 89 places to 346, overtaking Stellenbosch.

South African universities have staggered under the disruptive and financial effects of fee protests which began in October 2015 and reignited in September following the government’s green light of an 8 per cent increase in 2017.

Many South African universities have slipped down other university rankings, with Times Higher Education suggesting that this could be due to the impact of the Fees Must Fall protests. 

The highest placed African university outside South Africa is Egypt’s Cairo University at 511. In East Africa, Uganda’s Makerere University took top spot at 569, followed by Addis Ababa University at 969. In West Africa, the University of Ibadan just squeezed in at 993.

The other African universities on the list of 1,000 institutions were all from South Africa and North Africa.

Of the 21 African entrants, South Africa has the most representatives on the list, nine, which where also the highest ranked.

In 2015 a scientific paper said the US News & World Report Best Global Universities ranking was the one with “the least amount of error overall”.

The ranking focuses exclusively on research and publications, with a combined global and regional research reputation survey counting for a quarter of the total score. Other indicators assess citations, publications and impact.

In addition, the U.S. News & World Report awards scores for unique university ranking indicators such as books published and academic conferences hosted.

The top end of the table was dominated by the familiar faces from the US and the UK with Harvard taking the top spot.