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Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2018

Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2018 main image

Click here to read the 2019 version of this article, based on the QS BRICS University Rankings 2019.

Released today, the QS BRICS University Rankings features 12 top universities in South Africa, based on a methodology which assesses each institution on eight key performance indicators, including its research impact and reputation among academics and employers. The BRICS ranking, first launched in 2013, aims to highlight the 300 of the most prestigious institutions in the five major emerging economies of the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Read on for an overview of the 10 highest-ranked South African universities in this year’s BRICS, plus information on how each institution performed in the latest QS World University Rankings® and QS World University Rankings by Subject.

1. University of Cape Town

University of Cape Town

Ranked 19th in this year’s BRICS and 191st in the world rankings, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is consistently ranked first among the top universities in South Africa. The oldest university in the country (founded in 1829 as the South African College), UTC is located on the slopes of Devil's Peak at Table Mountain, giving it impressive views. UTC is aiming to be Africa's leading research university and was ranked 26th in the BRICS ranking for its citations per faculty, a measure of research impact. It has about 29,000 students, many of whom come from outside South Africa, earning it 13th place for the international students indicator in BRICS.

The University of Cape Town is currently featured in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 35 out of a possible 46 subjects, achieving a placing of 10th for development studies, 47th for geography and 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. University of the Witwatersrand

University of the Witwatersrand

The next university in our list of the top universities in South Africa is based in Johannesburg, where the University of the Witwatersrand is ranked 36th in this year’s BRICS and joint 364th in the world. More commonly known as Wits University, the university was founded in 1896 as a mining school in Kimberley, and now has around 33,700 students and receives the strongest rank among South African universities for its proportion of international faculty. It counts among its alumni four Nobel Prize winners, including Nelson Mandela.

Living up to its background as a mining school, the University of the Witwatersrand was ranked in the top 50 internationally for mineral & mining engineering, and is joint 18th for development studies. It’s also ranked among the world’s best for a further 22 subjects.

3. University of Pretoria

University of Pretoria

Up 11 places this year to rank 38th in BRICS, the University of Pretoria is also ranked 501-550 in the world and is one of the largest South African universities, with more than 50,000 students and seven campuses. A leading research university, it offers more than 1,800 programs in Afrikaans and English, and in 1949 launched the first MBA program outside of North America. It’s also the only university in the country with a veterinary science faculty.

The University of Pretoria is internationally ranked for 16 subjects, including the top 150 for theology, divinity & religious studies, law and agriculture.

4. Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University

Ranked joint 47th in BRICS and joint 361st in the world, Stellenbosch University was founded in 1918 in Stellenbosch, a town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Another of the largest among these top universities in South Africa, Stellenbosch has 30,850 students (nicknamed maties) enrolled, including 4,000 international students. Like Wits, it receives a very high rank for its international faculty, fourth in the whole BRICS ranking.

Stellenbosch University 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. University of Johannesburg

University of Johannesburg

The University of Johannesburg is up five places in this year’s BRICS, now ranked 58th, and is also currently ranked 601-650 in the world. The youngest of these top universities in South Africa, the University of Johannesburg was formed in 2005 by the merger of Rand Afrikaans University, Technikon Witwatersrand and parts of Vista University. It’s now a large institution of over 50,000 students, including more than 3,000 international students from 80 countries.

Ranked among the world’s best for four subjects, the University of Johannesburg is in the top 100 for development studies.

6. University of KwaZulu-Natal

University of Kwazulu-Natal

Ranked 80th in BRICS and 701-750 in the world, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is another of the younger South African universities, also formed by a merger (of the University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal) in 2004. The university is made up of five campuses in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Its scientists play an important role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, with the Center for AIDS Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) located on its medical school campus.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is ranked among the world’s best for six subjects, and is another of the top South African universities to feature in the top 100 for development studies.

7. Rhodes University

Rhodes University

Next in our look at the top universities in South Africa is Rhodes University, ranked joint 138th in BRICS and 701-750 in the world. Rhodes University is located in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape Province, and was founded in 1904. A small, highly residential university of over 8,000 students, Rhodes receives the highest score among South African universities for its proportion of international students, with 18% of students coming from abroad.

Rhodes University is currently ranked in the global top 250 for two subjects: communication and media studies, and English language and literature. 

8. University of the Western Cape

University of the Western Cape

Ranked 146th in BRICS and 801-1000 in the world, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) was established in 1959 in the Bellville suburb of Cape Town, and is known for having played a key role during the struggle against racial discrimination in South African history, playing a clear academic role in helping to build a fair and dynamic nation. UWC has grown to become one of the most diverse universities in the country and has built strong relationships with other universities in South Africa and beyond.

9. University of the Free State

University of the Free State

Ranked 161st in BRICS this year, the University of the Free State (UFS) is a public, multi-campus university in Bloemfontein in the province of the Free State. Founded in 1904 as Grey College, UFS now has around 39,440 students in seven faculties and three campuses. It’s boasted a 221 percent research output increase since 2010, and also has 18 international research partnerships.

10. North-West University

North West University

The last in our look at the top 10 South African universities is North-West University, ranked 181-190 in BRICS and in the 801-1000 range of the world rankings. Formed by a merger of Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education and the University of North-West in 2004, the university now has three campuses and more than 64,000 students.

More top universities in South Africa…

Also included within the 300 top universities in the BRICS countries are Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, another new university which was founded through a merger. It’s ranked 191-200 in the BRICS this year. The final South African university to be featured this year is the University of Fort Hare, located in Alice, Eastern Cape province, which is a new entrant in the BRICS ranking this year at 251-300.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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