Global academic ranking includes 22 African universities

Seventeen departments at African universities can claim to be among the world’s 100 best places to study their subject, according to the 11th edition of the ‘QS World University Rankings by Subject’. African universities perform better in the social sciences, arts and humanities as only three of the 17 top-100 departments are scientific or technological disciplines – two mineral and mining engineering departments.

The 2021 instalment of QS’s global university performance comparison is based on data on the performance of 141 programmes at 17 African universities, across 51 academic disciplines – but this is only a small increase in representation at the programme level since 2020 when 135 programmes at 18 universities were ranked.

“Of those ranked last year, while the majority remain stable, the number that have declined in rank over the past year [33] is more than double the number that have risen year-on-year [16]. In addition, the number of departments at African universities achieving top-100 ranks is down five on 2020’s number [22],” according to a media release.

The continent’s best-performing university in this exercise remains the University of Cape Town (UCT) which ranks in the top-100 programmes for six subjects (archaeology, anthropology, architecture and built environment, geography and medicine, including a top-10 position in development studies).

Overall, UCT continues to occupy the top position of the 22 universities in Africa on the list of 5,500 institutions by ranking in position 220 globally for 2021.

The University of the Witwatersrand ranks in the top 100 for four subjects (archaeology, anthropology, mineral and mining engineering and is at 27th position in development studies). Uganda’s Makerere University’s development studies programme is in 45th position and Stellenbosch University attains three top-100 positions (theology, divinity and religious studies as well as agriculture and forestry and has moved to the 51-100 group in development studies).

The mineral and mining engineering programme at the University of Pretoria has moved into joint 48th position and its theology, divinity and religious studies is also in the top 100.

The programme offering of International Hotel School in Johannesburg has also made it into the top 100 in the leisure and hospitality field.

QS rankings by subject in Africa

Best in the world in research impact

There are a range of programmes in which African institutions are among the world’s best for research impact. The top citations per paper scores achieved by an African institution is the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) accounting and finance programme (96.1/100 for citations per paper).

It is followed by the University of South Africa’s theology, divinity and religious studies department (91.9/100), with another theology department, this time also at UP (91.8/100), next in line.

The University of Johannesburg’s English language and literature offering (90.8/100) and the University of the Witwatersrand’s English language and literature offering (90.3/100) are also in this group.

The rankings, compiled by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, provide independent comparative analyses on the performance of 14,435 individual university programmes taken by students at 1,452 universities, which can be found in 86 locations worldwide, across 51 academic disciplines and five broad faculty areas.

QS categorises its 51 narrow subjects into five broad faculty areas: arts and humanities, engineering and technology, life sciences and medicine, natural sciences, and social sciences and management. QS produces rankings for all 51 narrow subjects, and also produces a ranking for each broad ‘faculty area’.

Top study destinations in six countries

The University of the Witwatersrand emerged as another top study destination in Africa, after being placed on position 403 globally, followed by the American University in Cairo, in position 411.

Other African universities that are among the best 500 universities in the world are the University of Johannesburg at position 439 and the University of Stellenbosch at position 456.

The University of Cairo and UP were placed in the category of 561-570, meaning that they were among the best 1,000 universities globally.

Other African universities that were well placed included the University of KwaZulu-Natal and two Egyptian universities, Ain Shams University and Alexandria University. The three universities were in the category of 801-1,000.

This meant that Africa had 11 universities among the top 1,000 universities globally, but they were located only in Egypt (4) and South Africa (7), in terms of six metrics that comprised academic reputation, employer reputation and faculty student ratio.

Other metrics that were considered were publication citations per faculty, international faculty ratio and international student ratio.

In this regard, 11 other African universities performed well and were placed in the category of 1,001+ that meant that they were only slightly outside the range of the best 1,000 universities.

In this category, Egypt had five universities, namely, Al Alzhar University, Assiut University, Helwan University, German University in Cairo and Mansoura University. From South Africa were North-West University and the University of the Western Cape.

Also represented in this category were the University of Ghana, University of Nairobi in Kenya, Makerere University in Uganda and Mohammed V University of Morocco.

What this means is that, out of more than 2,000 universities in Africa, only 22 in six countries were considered for inclusion in the academic ranking.

Five universities ranked for placement of graduates

But, while universities globally continue to produce high-achieving graduates every year, QS World University Rankings is concerned about employers expressing worries that universities are not preparing their students for the world of work.

“Soft skills, in particular, are repeatedly [mentioned], while there is a notable skills gap in some industries, notably engineering and technology,” stated the group’s briefing.

Subsequently, given the competition for graduates who are considered well-prepared for the job market, QS World University Rankings, in collaboration with its associates that include Elsevier, has instituted a ranking of universities in terms of their graduate employability.

In this regard, the best five universities in Africa in terms of graduate placement into the labour market are the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, American University in Cairo, Stellenbosch University and the University of Nairobi.