Growing number of universities in Africa ranked for SDGs

A total of 70 African universities located in 11 countries have been ranked in at least one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the third edition of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. This represents a 40% increase in the number of universities included in the rankings compared to the second edition that featured only 50 African universities.

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.

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.

The 11 African countries – which represents 20% or a fifth of the 55 African countries – included Egypt, with 32 universities listed for their progress on SDGs, Morocco with seven, Algeria, Tunisia and South Africa with six universities each, Nigeria with five, Ghana with three, Kenya with two and Sudan, Tanzania and Gambia with one university each.

Leading on SDGs

South Africa’s University of Johannesburg has been placed in the top 100 list in six SDGs. It is the best in the world for SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), fourth for SDG 1 (No poverty), 24th for SDG 4 (Quality education), 43th for SDG 5 (Gender equality), 60th for SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), and 79th for SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production).

Egypt’s Aswan University has been ranked as eighth globally for SDG 2 (Zero hunger), 31st for SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and 33rd for SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

Ibn Tofail University in Morocco was ranked ninth in the world for SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy) and 25th for SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation).

Other institutions featured include Egypt’s Kafrelsheikh University ranked 39th for SDG 13 (Climate action), South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University ranked 40th for SDG 14 (Life below water) and the University of Pretoria ranked 76th for SDG 15 (Life on land).

Top 500 universities

Overall, South Africa’s University of Johannesburg has been ranked 92nd in the world, followed by Egypt’s Aswan University at 95th position – the only two African universities on the global top 100 list.

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

Several other institutions have been placed in the 201-300 band of ranked institutions, including Cairo University, Egypt, the University of Ghana and University of Pretoria, South Africa.

In the 301-400 band of ranked institutions, several institutions have been featured: Ashesi University in Ghana, the International University of Rabat in Morocco, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University, and Tunisia’s University of Tunis El Manar, along with two universities in Egypt, namely Alexandria University and Kafrelsheikh University.

Public vs private universities

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, professor of agricultural biotechnology at Cairo’s National Research Centre in Egypt, welcomed the progress made by African universities in supporting sustainable development.

“Since most of the highest-ranked African universities in the global impact rankings are classified as public universities, this delivers a strong message to policy-makers that public universities are still the main tool for developing scientific human resources and building knowledge economy, which necessitate enhancing governmental financial support for it,” Abdelhamid told University World News.

“Universities must not only rush for activities and initiatives that advance the SDGs for the sake of getting ranked highly, but should also work on areas such as basic research and soft-skills development,” said Abdelhamid.

African universities SDGs hub

Professor Juma Shabani, the director of the doctoral school at the University of Burundi and the former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, told University World News that, despite the 40% increase in the number of African countries on the list, African universities represent only 6% of the overall rankings from 1,115 ranked institutions.

“This low representation of African universities in the Impact Rankings should be addressed by adapting educational programmes, training, research projects and community engagement initiatives towards the UN’s SDGs,” Shabani added.

“Also, leading SDG-orientated African universities that shone in the global impact rankings should join forces to form an African universities SDGs hub to promote the transfer of SDGs best practices and knowledge, as well as actions and initiatives responding to the 2030 Development Agenda … across the African continent as well as to enhance cooperation in higher education and research for sustainable development,” Shabani suggested.