Rankings: African universities have made progress since 2018

African universities at last may be shaking off the longstanding unenviable characterisation of not measuring up to their counterparts in other parts of the world when it comes to providing high-quality teaching, research output, knowledge transfer and international outlook, according to Times Higher Education (THE), the global data provider assessing the performance of universities.

In the THE World University Rankings 2022 that were released from London on 2 September, researchers said universities in Africa and the Middle East had made the most progress since 2018.

According to the data, out of 1,662 universities that were ranked across 99 countries worldwide, Africa had 71 universities in the rankings, of which 23 were in Egypt and 11 each in South Africa and Algeria. Among the countries included for the first time were Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia had six universities each, Ghana three, while Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda had one university each.

The University of Cape Town in South Africa was ranked 183rd overall and the only institution in Africa that was in the top 200 universities globally.

Universities in 500-1,000 group

In addition to the University of Cape Town, eight other African universities were among the top 500 universities worldwide. They included Stellenbosch University and the University of the Witwatersrand, both from South Africa, which were placed in the category of 251-300.

Ghana’s University of Cape Coast was the fourth-best university in Africa, placed in the category of 301-350, while the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa, was fifth, placed in the group of 351-400.

Egypt’s Aswan University and its counterparts, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, Nigeria’s University of Ibadan and South Africa’s Durban University of Technology, all in the category of 401-500, closed the list of African universities among the world’s top 500 universities.

In recent years, the number of African universities in the top 1,000 best universities in the world has increased in different global rankings.

In the current THE World University Rankings 2022, the number was 25, of which nine were in the category of best 500 universities, while the rest were ranked in various categories between 501-1,000.

In this regard, six universities were ranked in the category of 501-600 and included Algeria’s Ferhat Abbas Setif University, Kenya’s University of Nairobi, University of Lagos in Nigeria, North-West University in South Africa and three Egyptian universities, namely, Kafrelsheikh University, Mansoura University and Suez Canal University.

In the category of 601-800 were six universities that included Algeria’s Oran 1 University, Makerere University in Uganda, three South African universities, namely the University of the Western Cape, the University of Pretoria and the University of Johannesburg, as well as Nigeria’s Covenant University and Cairo University in Egypt.

Completing the list of African universities in the category of 801-1,000 were seven institutions in Egypt, namely, the American University in Cairo, Benha University, Beni-Suef University, Menoufia University, South Valley University, Zagazig University and Zewail City of Science, Technology and Innovation. Others in the group were Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Morocco and the University of South Africa, or Unisa.

Performance indicators

According to Duncan Ross, the chief data officer at Times Higher Education, the researchers analysed various performance indicators that measured an institution’s performance in teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

In order to understand whether a university had a reputable learning and teaching environment, researchers undertook a comprehensive survey in perceived prestige of institutions in teaching and research, as well as by analysing staff-to-student ratio, doctorate-to-bachelors ratio, doctorate-awarded-to-academic staff ratio, as well as the institutional income.

On research segment the researchers undertook the number of academic papers published in peer-reviewed journals between 2016 and 2020. According to Ross, universities that did not have 1,000 publications during that period were excluded from the rankings.

Researchers also examined the research influence of a university by capturing the average number of times a university’s published work was cited by scholars globally.

Elsevier, the global analytics company that supplied data for the THE World University Rankings 2022, examined more than 108 million citations of 14.4 million journal articles, article reviews, conference proceedings, books and book chapters published over five years.

“The data included more than 24,600 academic journals indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus database and all indexed publications between 2016 and 2020,” said Ross.

But, whereas African universities increased their footprint in the world’s top universities, the emerging development is being driven by few countries, as more than 80% of the ranked universities are located in five countries: namely, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

Although Egypt provided 32% of the African universities in the rankings, South Africa had universities which ranked higher, as nine were among the top 1,000 universities globally.

Alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt was mentioned to have made the most progress in the rankings that were dominated by the United States, that had 183 of its institutions represented with 57 of them among the top 200 universities globally.

Still, there was a silver lining on the African scene, as Ethiopia and Botswana were among Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Fiji and Palestine, whose universities were in those rankings for the first time.