Engineering emerges as area of strength in subject rankings

A total of 112 universities in 17 African countries have been ranked in the 20th edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings by subject 2024, an index that each year lists institutions’ performance in academic fields across 11 selected subject areas.

Egypt has dominated the African cohort as it has 29 universities, which represent 26% of all the African universities that have been rated. With 23 universities, Algeria has the second-largest contingent, while Nigeria has 14, South Africa 12, Morocco 11, and Tunisia eight.

Ghana has four universities in the subject rankings, Botswana and Tanzania two universities each, while Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have one university each.

Although countries in North Africa appeared to have increased their share of the African cohort in the THE World Rankings by subject, South African universities continue to be the best rated in most of the subject areas.

For instance, in the law category, the University of Pretoria has moved from 78th position to 65th in 2024 – the best African-ranked university across the 11 subject areas that have been assessed.

Two other South African universities, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University (SU), have tied in the second position on the continent in the law subject category. They are in the 126-150 bracket globally, both improving on their previous positions.


However, there are indicators that the situation might change in the future. According to Phil Baty, the chief global affairs officer at THE, rankings by subject provide clear evidence of a resurgence, as well as declining dominance, of universities in various destinations worldwide.

“East Asian nations continue to strengthen in key areas, with Chinese universities, in particular, standing out, as well as those in Hong Kong and Singapore,” said Baty in a briefing statement.

Although the competition in African higher education might not take the East Asian pattern, the subject rankings show there is an upshot of academic regional clustering in the continent.

For instance in engineering, about 60% of universities that have been ranked in Africa are from four North African countries: Egypt (27), Algeria (21), Morocco (11), and Tunisia (7).

In this context, although South Africa’s University of Johannesburg has been the best-ranked African university in this category, there is no doubt that North Africa is emerging as a cluster of engineering excellence on the continent.

Aswan University and the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST) have joined SU as part of the top 500 universities in engineering as they have all been placed in the 401-500 bracket. In total, 55 African universities are on the list of 1,000 top universities in engineering, including institutions in Egypt (24), South Africa (9), Morocco (8), Nigeria (5), Tunisia (4), Algeria (3), Ghana (1), and Botswana (1).


Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa have continued to excel in the clinical and health category as compared to engineering, life sciences and physical sciences. In this field, African universities have been led by UCT which has been placed in 81st position. Last year it was in position 77.

SU and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) are in second position in Africa in this category as they have been globally placed in the 151-175 band, while the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is in the 301-400 band, which makes it the third-ranked on the continent.

Four other universities in Sub-Saharan Africa, namely, the Durban University of Technology (DUT), Uganda’s Makerere University and Nigeria’s University of Ibadan and University of Lagos, all in the 401-500 bracket, were the African cohort that were among the top 500 universities globally in the clinical and health category.

Arts and humanities

The arts and humanities category on the continent is dominated by South African universities as 10 out of 13 African universities that have been ranked in the category are from South Africa. The group is led by UCT which is in the 176-200 bracket globally, while Wits takes second position in Africa by virtue of being in the 201-250 band.

UP and SU have tied in the third spot on the continent after being placed in the 251-300 band, while UJ is in fourth position in the 301-400 bracket.

The University of the Free State, UKZN, North-West University (NWU), the University of the Western Cape, and the University of South Africa (UNISA), all in the 401-500 bracket, are other South African universities in that category.

The only other African universities that have been ranked in the arts and humanities category, in the 601+ bracket are Cairo University, the University of Ghana and the University of Nigeria Nsukka.

Business and economics

There are also indicators that Sub-Saharan Africa is emerging as a cluster for academic quality in business and economics on the continent, as eight out of 10 universities on the continent that are in the group of the top 500 universities in this category are from the region.

UJ is Africa’s top university in business and economics as it has been placed in the 201-250 bracket, while UCT (251-300) is in second position and Wits as well as UP are tied in the third spot after having both been placed in the 301-400 band globally.

Other African universities among the top 500 in that category are Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, University of Ghana, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), as well as Egypt’s Mansoura University, Tunisia’s University of Tunis El Manar and Nigeria’s Covenant University.

Computer science

But, despite computer science having emerged as an important field of study in the 21st century, only universities in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia are ranked.

In this regard, Africa’s top university in computer science is Cairo University, which has been placed in the 251-300 bracket, while Aswan University (301-400), also in Egypt, has taken the second position.

In this category, only seven African universities are among the elite group of 500 universities worldwide – and all of them in Egypt and South Africa. They included Egypt’s Benha, Mansoura, Minia, and South Africa’s UJ and SU, and all are in the 401-500 category.


Further, the performance of education as a subject was poor in Africa, as only 18 universities were ranked in that category and 11 of them were in South Africa, while the rest were in Ghana (2), Nigeria (2), Egypt (1), Tanzania (1) and Uganda (1).

In this regard, the best university in education is UCT, which is in position 92 while UJ (176-200), SU (176-200), Wits (250-300), and UP (301-400) are among the top 400 universities in that category. Other African universities among the top 500 universities in the education subject category include UKZN, NWU, UNISA, Makerere in Uganda, and Cape Coast of Ghana.

Life sciences

Although 14 African countries are represented in the rankings of the life sciences, the top performers are only among South African and Egyptian universities. According to the ranking datasets, the two countries are the only ones that have universities among the top 500.

UCT led the African cohort in life sciences as it has been placed in the band of 101-125 globally while SU (251-300) is second. The third spot in that category in the continent has been shared by UJ, UP, and Wits, which are in the 301-400 band.

Other African universities among the top 500 include UKZN, and Egypt’s quartet of Cairo, Al-Azhar, Alexandria, and Kafrelsheikh.

Physical science

Similarly, although more than 80% of African countries in those rankings were represented in the physical science rating, Egypt, which had 24 universities in the rankings, only had five among the top 500.

Social sciences

In the social sciences category, South Africa’s universities were ahead of their counterparts on the continent as five of them are among the top 500 globally. In total, only eight African universities are placed among the top 500. These are: UCT (100), Wits (151-200), UJ (201-250), SU (251-300), and UP (301-400), as well as Covenant, Cape Coast, and Alexandria, which are all in the 401-500 bracket.


The performance of teaching psychology as a subject in African universities is deemed to be quite poor, as outside South Africa, that had 10 universities in that category, only Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, each with one university, were represented.

UCT is the best university in psychology in Africa as it is in the bracket of 201-250, while, in total, seven South African universities and one Ghanaian university are among the top 500.

According to Baty, in the current edition of the World University Rankings, 1,904 universities are ranked, up from 1,799 last year.

In addition to significant data exercise from the universities, researchers included input from an academic survey that had more than 65,000 responses and bibliometrics on the tally of research papers and citations, as well as data provided by institutions.

“For this year’s analysis, 16.5 million research papers were examined, which is one million more than last year, while 134 million citations have been examined, compared with last year’s 121 million,” THE said in a statement.