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Only one South African university climbed the latest global rankings

The latest QS World University Rankings has been released for 2018/19, showing that only one South African university managed to improve its position among the best in the world from last year – while the others on the list declined.

As has become the norm in South Africa, the University of Cape Town has remained at the top of the local rankings – though it saw a drop of nine places in the global list from 191st in 2017/18 to 200th in the latest iteration.

In fact, only one university from South Africa actually managed to climb the global rankings this year, with all other ranked universities either dropping, or staying in the same range.

This was the University of Johannesburg, which moved up from the 601-650 range in the rankings, to the 551-560 range – overtaking the University of Pretoria, which dropped to the 561-570 range.

Other changes from last year’s ranking saw Stellenbosch University dropping to third position, after briefly being ranked as the second best university in the country in 2017/18, and Rhodes University dropping two places in the local listing.

South Africa’s universities

2018/19 2017/18 University
200 191 University of Cape Town
381 364 University of Witwatersrand
405 361 Stellenbosch University
551-560 601-650 University of Johannesburg
561-570 501-550 University of Pretoria
751-800 701-750 University of KwaZulu Natal
801-1000 801-1000 North-West University
801-1000 701-750 Rhodes University
801-1000 801-1000 University of the Western Cape

According to the QS rankings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made history, topping the QS World University Rankings for the seventh consecutive year. No other university has managed such a long run at the top.

The rankings have, for the first time, also extended to 1,000 institutions across the globe, having boosted its numbers from 800 in 2016/17 to 950 in 2017/18.

US universities continue to dominate the upper reaches of the ranking – following MIT, Stanford University, Harvard University and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) all retained their positions at second, third and fourth in the world respectively.

More US universities have risen than fallen in this year’s ranking,  QS noted, with Yale University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan all climbing at least one place in the world’s top 20.

The group also noted that UK universities have stabilised in the rankings, while Australia has dropped out of the top 20.


The QSWUR is based on a mix of survey responses and hard data across six indicators, compiled and weighted to formulate a final score.

Over 80,000 academics and 40,000 employers contributed to the rankings through the QS global surveys, while QS said it analysed 99 million citations from 10.3 million papers, and 1,000 institutions were ranked.

The ranking’s biggest indicator, accounting for 40% of the total score, is based on academic reputation.

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

The indicators and scores are:

  • Academic reputation (40%)
  • Employer reputation (10%)
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
  • Citations per faculty (20%)
  • International faculty ratio (5%)
  • International student ratio (5%)

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