South African universities rule roost in Africa

South Africa can claim to be the home of the most successful higher education system in Africa, as seven of its 26 public universities were ranked among the top 1 000 universities globally in the QS World University Rankings 2023, released earlier this month

Even then, Egypt was the best represented African country in the rankings, with 14 listed universities against South Africa’s nine on the list of about 1 400 institutions.

In Africa, the University of Cape Town and the University of Johannesburg were overall in position 237 and 412, respectively.

In total, 32 African universities in eight countries were ranked — Tunisia also had three, Sudan two, while Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Uganda posted one university each. Eleven of the 32 African universities were in the top 1 000 list.

According to Simona Bizzozero, the director of communications at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the American University in Cairo, ranked as the third-best university in Africa and was in position 416 globally. It was overall the most improved university on the continent.

“The American University in Cairo moved by 29 positions upwards due to its highest score in Africa for the proportion of its international faculty ratio, a metric in which it was placed 129th globally,” Bizzozero told University World News.

Reputation among global employers

But, on a country basis, 90% of South African universities that were ranked increased their reputation among global employers, climbing by 69 points, according to the employer reputation indicator. That indicator was based on the opinion of 99 000 global employers and hiring managers.

Highlighting the commanding lead of South African universities on the continent in the employer reputation indicator, Bizzozero said that this was the main metric that increased the profile of eight universities in South Africa. In this aspect, the University of Cape Town climbed 60 positions to 166th globally.

Ben Sowter, the senior vice-president of QS Quacquarelli Symonds, said in a statement that South African universities’ success in employer reputation reflects the success their graduates achieve in the workplace.

“Those universities appear to be achieving their primary objective of preparing students for the future,” stated Sowter.

Academic reputation

South African universities also did well in the academic reputation indicator; more than 50% of its ranked institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2023 had improved in this metric, which was based on the opinion of 151 000 academics globally.

According to Sowter, South African universities were also highly rated in terms of international collaboration in research. He noted that 50% of scholarly output from the South African ranked universities between 2016 and 2020 was produced alongside international partners.

High esteem in the international research network, an indicator that analysed international research collaboration and knowledge transfer, placed 50% of the South African ranked universities among the world’s top 200 and two of them in the top 100 in that metric.

The University of Johannesburg, the second-best university in Africa, was also commended for taking the top national spot by increasing its footprint in both the international faculty ratio and international student ratio.

In this regard, the university moved 32 positions, indicating that it is an attractive destination for foreign students and researchers from around the world.

On average, universities in South Africa dropped in citations per faculty indicator but North-West University, in the 1 001 to 1 200 band, was rated the top university for research in the country.

At continental level, only South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia had universities in the world’s top 1 000 in the rankings of 1 418 institutions across 100 locations.

In addition to the University of Cape Town (237), University of Johannesburg (412) and the American University in Cairo (416), other African universities in this elite group include the University of the Witwatersrand (428), Stellenbosch University (454) and Cairo University (551 to 560).

Others in the group were South Africa’s University of Pretoria (591 to 600), the University of Sousse (751 to 800) in Tunisia, Ain Shams (801 to 1 000) in Egypt and South Africa’s Rhodes University and University of KwaZulu-Natal, also in the 801 to 1 000 ranking category.

Six more universities were in the 1 001 to 1 200 ranking bracket and included three Egyptian universities — Alexandria, Assiut and Future universities. Two South African universities, North-West University and the University of the Western Cape, and Kenya’s University of Nairobi, were also in that ranking group.

Additionally, 13 universities that comprised the largest cohort of the African universities were in the 1 201 to 1 400 ranking grouping and eight of them were Egyptian institutions namely, Al-Azhar University, the German University in Cairo, Helwan University, Mansoura University, Suez Canal University, Tanta University, British University in Cairo and Zagazig University.

Also included in this classification were the University of Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Khartoum and two Tunisian universities, University of Tunis and University of Tunis El Manar.

Morocco’s Mohammed V University in Rabat and Sudan University of Science and Technology were ranked in the lowest category of 1 400+.

Apart from South Africa and Egypt, Tunisia was the only other African country to have a university that made it to the top 1 000. The University of Sousse commanded Africa’s highest faculty per student ratio, an indirect indicator of a university’s commitment to teaching and learning. Bizzozero said the Tunisian university was ranked 176th globally.

Besides the South African universities, the University of Nairobi was highly ranked ahead of other universities in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of improvement in three ranking metrics, academic reputation, employer reputation and faculty per student ratio.

But Sowter warned that higher education in Africa is struggling in teaching capacity and in research. Even in South Africa, where considerable investment in higher education has achieved moderate success, deep divides in educational access and equity still exist.

In that aspect, levelling up African universities in all fields and enhancing access and equity should be their next step if they want to make a mark in the global academic arena.

On a global perspective, Massachusetts Institute of Technology achieved a record-extending 11th consecutive year as world number one, while the University of Cambridge rose to second place and Stanford University remained in the third position. The University of Oxford and Harvard University took fourth and fifth positions, respectively.

This is an edited version of an article that was first published by University World News, Africa edition.The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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