Global impact rankings include 2 African universities in top 100

Two African universities – the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Aswan University in Egypt – are placed in the top 100 institutions in the world for their work towards the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the third edition of the annual Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.

On a table of about 1,100 universities around the world, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has been ranked as the institution performing best on SDG8 (Decent work opportunities and economic growth) and ranked fourth for SDG1 (No poverty). In terms of the top 100, it was placed in position 92.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, released on 21 April, placed Aswan University at overall 95th position.

Two other African universities, Morocco’s Ibn Tofaïl University, and South Africa’s University of Cape Town, were placed in the 101-200 band of the global rankings.

Overall, the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom has topped the table, but Australia’s system outperformed the rest, with its universities claiming four positions in the overall ranking top 10, three more than any other country or region.

In total, 17 universities from 10 different countries and regions claim a top position across the 18 rankings, including Mexico, Thailand, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, with the University of Manchester in the UK in the top spot.

The rankings assess university commitment to sustainability at an institutional, local, national, regional and global level, from carbon neutral campuses to global partnerships responding to the COVID-19 pandemic at a multinational level.

Launched in 2019, the Impact Rankings are the first global attempt to measure university progress towards the 17 SDGs, providing a total of 18 rankings, one for each SDG as well as an overall table.

In the top 100

In addition to its top 10 position, UJ was ranked in the top 100 for several other SDGs, 24th in SDG4 (Quality education), 43rd in SDG5 (Gender equality), 60th in SDG10 (Reduced inequalities); 79th in SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production) and 91st for SDG7 (Affordable and clean energy).

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the vice-chancellor of UJ, said the university community received the results with “joy and celebration”.

“Through these impact rankings, the university is demonstrating its work in tackling global issues and that its endeavours have not gone unnoticed,” said Marwala.

Aswan University (ASWU) ranking committee issued a statement on its official Facebook page, saying: “In a unique achievement, the first of its kind, Aswan University achieved the best ranking of Egyptian universities ever in the THE Impact Ranking for achieving the SDGs.”

In addition to its global 95th position, ASWU was ranked eighth for SDG2 (Zero hunger), 31st for SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and 33rd for SDG17 (Partnerships for the goals) respectively.

Professor Mohamed Orabi, the head of the ranking committee and the deputy dean for postgraduate studies and scientific research at ASWU, told University World News that the institution will, through its ranking office team, analyse its activities towards SDGs to determine its strong and weak points.

He added that ASWU would like to work on opportunities to improve its position within some sectors such as zero hunger and suitable cities and communities, in particular on its new campus in New Aswan City.

Orabi said the positions achieved were the outcome of several strategic and academic factors including the university’s strategic plan to meet the SDGs, along with several national, regional and international SDGs-ordinated initiatives and activities.

“These include educational programmes, training, scientific research and society engagement, along with services [to] production sectors and the surrounding community for promoting socio-economic development and establishing a knowledge society,” said Orabi.

Other achievers

Several other institutions fared well on a few of the SDGs, placing some of them in the 101-200 band of ranked institutions.

Morocco’s Ibn Tofaïl University (ITU) ranked in the 101-200 band, was ninth in SDG7 (Affordable and clean energy), 25th in SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation) and 45th in SDG1 (No poverty).

In a statement, ITU said its achievement was the outcome of ongoing efforts to work towards the UN’s SDGs.

According to ITU’s statement, the achievement, a first in Morocco, will improve the status of Moroccan universities and their position internationally.

“These efforts also fall within the framework of Morocco’s strategy to achieve the goals of sustainable development under the pioneering leadership of King Mohammed VI, through the adoption of a set of strategic mechanisms, policies and initiatives,” said ITU.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has been placed in the top 100 for three critical areas in reduction of poverty, gender equality and reduced inequalities. It was placed in 40th position (tied) for SDG1 (No poverty), in 58th place (tied) for SDG5 (Gender equality) and 94th for SDG10 (Reduced inequalities).

A ‘catalyst for action’

According to THE Chief Data Officer Duncan Ross in his explanation of the methodology, it is hoped that the rankings “can be a catalyst for action, a mechanism for holding our universities to account, and an opportunity for them to highlight great work that they are already doing”.

The THE Impact Rankings assess universities on metrics across all 17 UN SDGs. Data was collected from universities and Elsevier and the metrics were developed in partnership with Vertigo Ventures.

The findings are displayed in 18 league tables, one for each of the 17 individual SDGs and one overall ranking table. To appear in the overall ranking table, universities must have submitted to SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals) and a minimum of three other SDGs.

According to THE, a university’s final score in the overall table is calculated by combining its score in SDG 17 with its top three scores out of the remaining 16 SDGs. SDG 17 accounts for 22% of the overall score, while the other SDGs each carry a weight of 26%. This means that different universities are scored based on a different set of SDGs, depending on their focus.

A university’s contribution to individual SDGs is assessed on the basis of research metrics (27%) and other evidence-based criteria. So, for instance SDG 1 (No poverty) is based on research on poverty, including scale and citations, as well as the number of papers co-authored with a university based in a low- or middle-income country; other factors are the proportion of students receiving financial aid; and evidence of university anti-poverty programmes providing student support and community support.

Comparison with previous years’ rankings is difficult because the number of participant institutions increased by 211 (or 38%) from 556 in 2019 to 767 in 2020 and further increased to 1,240 this year; secondly, the number of SDGs included rose from 11 to 17 between 2019 and 2020, increasing the number of metrics ranked.

This news report was updated on 26 April 2021.