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South Africa slips while continent rises in Saudi university rankings

African universities, with the notable exception of South Africa, show upward mobility in the latest rankings from the Saudi Arabia-based Centre for World University Rankings released this week.

No new African university made the CWUR top 1,000 this year. But the 10 universities from South Africa, Egypt and Uganda that were there last year have all shifted their positions.

The leading African university, South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, had the steepest fall—27 places. Wits again ranked far ahead of Africa’s perennially top-ranked university in other rankings, the University of Cape Town, an anomaly unique to the CWUR.

UCT slid out of the top quarter to 265, down 17 places from last year. Stellenbosch University, coming in at 329, and the University of Pretoria at 678, both dropped close to 20 places. Only the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa showed improvement, moving up 11 positions to 467.

Uganda’s Makerere University continued its steady climb. It rose 23 places to 846, matching its climb of 2015 and edging closer to the leading university in Egypt, Cairo University at 771. Cairo was the only African university that improved more than Makerere, moving up 25 positions.

Other Egyptian universities on the list—Alexendria, Ain Shams, and Mansura—were all ranked marginally higher than last year, but all appear near the bottom of the table in the high 900s.

The CWUR ranking does not employ a survey of academics like other ranking systems. Instead, it relies on indicators based on alumni and faculty quality for three-quarters of its score. Research indicators such as publications and citations contribute 20 per cent to the total score.

UCT scored highest in Africa in terms of its number of publications, while Wits scored highest for publications in premier journals and citations. Africa’s highest individual indicator score was 35th in the world for Wits in ‘alumni employment’, which counts alumni in top CEO positions normalised by university size.

The top end of the table was heavily dominated by the United States. Eight out of the top 10 were from the US, with Harvard and Stanford taking the top two spots.