Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2019 | Top Universities

Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2019

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Sabrina Collier

Updated Apr 29, 2024



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The QS BRICS University Rankings 2019, released today, features 13 top South African universities, ranked based on a methodology which assesses each institution’s employer and academic reputations, research impacts, percentage of international students and more. The BRICS ranking, which was first launched in 2013, aims to highlight the leading universities in the five major emerging economies of the BRICS countries: BrazilRussiaIndiaChina and South Africa.

Read on as we count down the 10 highest-ranked South African universities in 2019 according to the new BRICS ranking, with further information on how each institution performed in the latest QS World University Rankings®

QS BRICS University Rankings 2019 - Top Universities in South Africa

South Africa rank BRICS rank University
1 22 University of Cape Town
2 40 University of the Witswatersrand
3 45 University of Pretoria
4 51 Stellenbosch University
5 61 University of Johannesburg
6 85 University of KwaZulu-Natal
7 124 Rhodes University
8 =139 University of the Western Cape
9 =170 North-West University
10 180 University of the Free State

10. University of the Free State


University of the Free State


Ranked 180th in the QS Brics University Rankings this year, the University of the Free State (UFS) earned its strongest score in the indicator measuring the percentage of international students (ranked 59th). UFS is one of the oldest South African universities, having been founded in 1904 as Grey College. It’s mainly located in Bloemfontein, the state capital of the Free State and the judicial capital of South Africa, but also operates a satellite campus in Qwaqwa.

9. North-West University


North-west University


North-West University (NWU) climbed from 181-190 to joint 170th place in this year’s BRICS, and was also featured in the 801-1000 range of the latest QS World University Rankings®. Formed by the 2004 merger of two previous universities as part of the South African government’s plan to transform higher education, NWU is now one of the largest universities in the country, hosting more than 68,300 students.

8. University of the Western Cape


University of the Western Cape


Up five places to rank joint 139th, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) earned its best scores for citations per faculty member (a measure of research impact) and percentage of international faculty members. UWC is noted for its significant role in the fight against racial discrimination in South Africa, having originally been founded for black students only during the apartheid period.

7. Rhodes University


Rhodes University


Heading to the Eastern Cape province for the next in our look at the top universities in South Africa, Rhodes University climbed 14 places to rank 124th in the BRICS rankings this year, and was also featured at 801-1000 in the World University Rankings. Rhodes was established in 1904 and has a small student population of 8,200, 18 percent of whom are from outside South Africa, giving it the country’s strongest score in the international students indicator. 

6. University of KwaZulu-Natal


University of Kwazulu-Natal


One of the younger South African universities, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is ranked 85th in BRICS in 2019 and 751-800 in the World University Rankings. UKZN was founded in 2004 from the merger of the University of Natal, which dated back to 1910, and the University of Durban-Westville, and now has more than 46,500 students enrolled on five campuses throughout the province of the same name.

5. University of Johannesburg


University of Johannesburg


Another of the top universities in South Africa to have been formed by a merger, the University of Johannesburg is ranked 61st in this year’s BRICS and 551-600 in the World University Rankings. It earned a very high score (ninth in the ranking) for the percentage of international faculty members indicator, and was also ranked in the top 50 in BRICS for the international students indicator, with more than 3,000 of its 50,000 students coming from outside South Africa.

4. Stellenbosch University


Stellenbosch University


Heading back to the Western Cape Province, Stellenbosch University, located in the small town of the same name, is ranked 51st in BRICS and joint 405th in the world, making it fourth among the top universities in South Africa. Stellenbosch is one of the oldest institutions in the country, having been established in 1918 (though it has roots as far back as 1864). It now has more than 29,000 students and five campuses, and has cemented a reputation as a world-class institution. 

3. University of Pretoria


University of Pretoria


The University of Pretoria (UP) is down slightly to rank 45th in BRICS, but is nonetheless ranked third in the country, as well as 561-570 in the world. One of the largest and oldest South African universities (founded in 1908), UP earned top-20 scores for two of the BRICS indicators: employer reputation and international faculty. It offers more than 1,800 programs in Afrikaans and English, and operates seven campuses as well as other sites such as the Pretoria Academic Hospital.

2. University of the Witwatersrand


University of the Witwatersrand


Ranked 40th in BRICS and joint 381st in the world, the University of the Witwatersrand, known as Wits University or simply Wits for short, is located on multiple campuses in northern Johannesburg. It’s internationally recognized as a leading institution for paleo sciences, boasting the largest fossil collections in the Southern hemisphere. It also has major roots in the mining industry, and came 15th in the most recent QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018 for mineral & mining engineering.

1. University of Cape Town


University of Cape Town


Consistently ranked number one among the top universities in South Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is placed 22nd in the BRICS rankings and joint 200th in the world, earning scores in the top 15 of BRICS for both the employer and academic reputation indicators. UCT is the oldest university in the country, dating back to 1829 when it was founded as the South African College. During its long history it has played a key role in the opposition against apartheid, and now has one of the most diverse student communities in South Africa. Looking at the subject rankings, the University of Cape Town is particularly prestigious for development studies, sports-related subjects and geography, coming in the global top 50 for all three.

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