Universities in South Africa have systems that are considered the strongest on the continent.

South Africa is home to five out of the six best universities in Africa, including the University of Cape Town (located in South Africa’s leading city, Cape Town) and the University of the Witwatersrand (located in the country’s megacity, Johannesburg). Both campuses are constantly graded as academically strongest in Africa.

It is important to note that rankings of universities in South Africa are hugely built on international university rankings because there are no South African rankings as of yet.

Additionally, partly because of the implicit difficulty of ranking complex educational institutions, there is an increasing number of competing international university ranking schemes, each with a distinct emphasis.

Three of the most prominent ones are the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, often called the “Shanghai Rankings”).

Based on the 2018 edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, top South African universities were ranked as follows:

1. University of Cape Town University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university situated in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

The University of Cape Town was founded in 1829 as the South African College and is the oldest university in South Africa and the second oldest extant university in Africa. The language of instruction is English.

2. University of the Witwatersrand 

University of the Witwatersrand

A multi-campus South African public research university located in the northern areas of central Johannesburg. It is usually referred to as Wits University.

The university has its roots in the mining industry, as do Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand in general. It was founded in 1896 as the South African School of Mines in Kimberley.

The University of Wits is the third oldest South African university in continuous operation, after the University of Cape Town (founded in 1829), and Stellenbosch University (founded in 1866).

3. Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University

A leading public research university located in the town of Stellenbosch, South Africa. SU invented Africa’s first microsatellite, SUNSAT, which was introduced to the public in 1991 for the first time.

It was the first Africa university to sign the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Formerly a college, it became a university on April 2, 1918,  and was renamed Stellenbosch University.  The students of SU are called “Maties”.

4. University of KwaZulu-Natal

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It was formed on January 1, 2004, following the merger between the University of Natal and the University of Durban-Westville. KZN currently boasts of five campuses.

In the same vein, based on the 2018 version of the QS World University Rankings, top South African universities are ranked almost the same way as the one above with a more detailed analysis:

  1. The University of Cape Town is ranked number one in South Africa, the 191st university in the world. It sits in the 10th position for development studies, and 47th for geography. It also secured a spot in the top 100 for other subjects such as anatomy & physiology, English language and literature, law studies, architecture and sports-related subjects.
  2. The University of the Witwatersrand was ranked second best university in South Africa, the 364th university in the world. It secured a spot in the top 50 internationally for mineral & mining engineering and is joint 18th for development studies. The University of Wits also ranked among the world’s best for a further 22 subjects.
  3. The University of Pretoria a South African multi-campus public research institution was ranked third in South African and 501-550 in the world. Founded in 1908, the public research university is ranked internationally for 16 subjects, including the top 150 for theology, divinity & religious studies, law, and agriculture.
  4. Stellenbosch University came fourth best university in South Africa, the 361st best university in the world. It is ranked among the world’s best for 18 subjects, with positions in the top 100 for development studies, theology, divinity & religious studies, and agriculture.
  5. The University of Johannesburg is fifth in South Africa and 601-650 in the world. A learning institution to over 50,000 students, including more than 3,000 international students from 80 countries, UJ ranked among the world’s best for four subjects and is in the top 100 for development studies.
  6. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is ranked as the sixth best university in South Africa and falls within the range of 701-750 in the world ranking. Situated in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, the university ranked among the world’s best for six subjects and also featured in the top 100 for development studies. It was established on 1 January 2004 after the unification between the University of Natal and the University of Durban-Westville and has five campuses.
  7. Rhodes University is ranked the seventh best in South Africa and falls within the range of 701-750 in the world. The University is made it in the global top 250 for two subjects: communication and media studies, and English language and literature.
  8. The University of the Western Cape is ranked the eighth best university in South Africa. Established in 1959 in the Bellville suburb of Cape Town, it falls with the range of 801-1000 in the world.
  9. The University of the Free State is ranked ninth in South Africa for 2018. UFS was founded as Grey College in 1904. It now boasts 39,440 students in seven faculties and three campuses.
  10. North West University is ranked tenth in South Africa and falls in the 801-1000 range of the world rankings. The university was formed in 2004 by a merger of Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education and the University of North-West.  It has three campuses and more than 64,000 students.

See the latest ranking according to a newer ranking scheme, University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP) on the next page.

The newer ranking scheme, University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP), which ranks universities based solely on quantitative measures of academic productivity, includes data for a larger number of global universities, and thus gives some sense of the relative standing of more South African institutions made the following ranking for its 2018 edition.

1. University of Cape Town

2. University of the Witwatersrand

3. University of KwaZulu Natal

4. Stellenbosch University

5. University of Pretoria

6. University of Johannesburg

7. North-West University

8. University of the Western Cape

9. Rhodes University

10. University of South Africa (Unisa)

11. University of the Free State

12. Nelson Mandela University

13. Tshwane University of Technology

14. Durban University of Technology

15. University of Limpopo

16. Cape Peninsula University of Technology

16. University of Fort Hare

16. University of Venda

The Latest Ranking by University Web Ranking is as follows:

1. The University of Cape Town

2. The University of Pretoria

3. The University of Stellenbosch

4. The University of the Witwatersrand

5. The University of South Africa

6. The University of KwaZulu-Natal

7. Rhodes University

8. The University of the Western Cape.

9. The University of Johannesburg

10. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

11. North-West University

12. Universiteit van die Vrystaat

13. Cape Peninsula University of Technology

14. Tshwane University of Technology

15. Durban University of Technology

16. Vaal University of Technology

17. The University of Fort Hare.

18. Central University of Technology

19. The University of Venda

20. The University of Limpopo

21. The University of Zululand

22. Mangosuthu University of Technology

23. Walter Sisulu University

Note: Each of the rankings seems to follow guidelines that are specific to what it wants to portray and as such their rankings might be similar but are still different. So, choose the one that best suits you and enjoy.

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