UCT University of Cape Town

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UCT retains top spot in Africa in world university rankings

Cape Town is the only South African university to make the top 200 of an international annual review, ahead of Wits and Stellenbosch.

UCT University of Cape Town

Image: Adobe Stock

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has retained its spot as the continent’s top university, tying at 155th among more than 1 500 institutions.

UCT was the only South African institution in the top 200 of the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings published on Wednesday, 2 September.

The THE World University Rankings, published once a year, assesses institutions worldwide across 13 performance indicators in five areas: teaching (30%), research (30%), citations (30%), international outlook (7.5%) and industry income (2.5%).

Oxford, Stanford and Harvard took the top three places in the global rankings overall.

South African university scores

South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand was 201 in the rankings and Stellenbosch University followed at 251.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (351) and the Durban University of Technology (401) were also in the top five for South Africa.

UCT’s performance across these indicators was mixed, with drops in some areas offset by raised scores in others, compared to the previous year.

An increased score does not always lead to an increase in places, since rankings are relative and other universities whose scores increased more would push another institution’s performance down.

Similarly, a small drop in score can lead to a significant drop in places.

Where UCT improved

UCT’s strongest performance remains in the industry income category (knowledge transfer), reflecting the contribution of the university’s research to industry.

The research category (volume, income and reputation) also saw an improvement in the research reputation survey score. This indicates its growing reputation among international academics, and in the ratio of papers to academic staff score.

The citations category (research influence) score, which measures the number of times a piece of research is cited, also improved.

Scores increased too in the teaching category (the learning environment): both in the ratio of students to academic staff and the ratio of international income to academic staff.

In the international outlook category (international staff, students and research collaborations) the co-authorship score improved.

Where UCT dropped

In the teaching category (the learning environment) UCT’s score decreased slightly, which led to a significant drop in places.

Scores dropped for the ratio of doctorates to bachelor degrees awarded, the ratio for doctorate degrees awarded to academic staff and for the teaching reputation survey indicator.

In the research category UCT dropped in the ratio of research income to academic staff score.

In the international outlook category (international staff, students and research collaborations), UCT dropped a few places due to the decline in the number of international students and staff.

International students and staff have a significant impact on institutional life and campus diversity, as well as university income.

Earlier this year, UCT also took the continent’s top place in the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and in the Centre for World University Rankings.

UCT is also Africa’s top university on the US News Best Global Universities rankings, the most recent of which were issued in 2019 and the next are expected in October.