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University Rankings between 2015 and 2017?

There are three different sources of global University Rankings most often used by employers – each with a slightly different approach to measuring and ranking universities and each using varied methodologies to arrive at these rankings. This means, of course, that the same University will attain a different global ranking, depending on which survey you are looking at. We thought it would be useful to compare the three surveys – and review how South African Universities have been ranked between 2015 and 2017.
The table, below, provides an overview of the three different surveys, what they measure, how weightings are allocated and the methodology applied in arriving at a ranking.

Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings Times Higher Education World University Rankings Shanghai: Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
Website Address
Who conducts this research? QS is a medium sized company with offices around the world. Their ambition is to be the world’s leading media, events and software company in the higher education field. The Times Higher Education (THE), formerly the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), is a weekly magazine based in London, reporting specifically on news and issues related to higher education. It is the United Kingdom’s leading publication in this field. This research is published by the Centre for World Class Universities (CWCU), Graduate School of Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
What is measured? This research is based on the four key areas of research, teaching, employability and the international outlook of Universities. The THE World University rankings makes use of 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to rank Universities. Universities are ranked by several indicators of academic or research performance, the quality of education and the quality of the Universities’ faculties.
Measurement specifics and weightings There are a total of 6 measures, each with different weightings:
1. Academic Reputation (40%)
2. Employer Reputation (10%)
3. Faculty/Student Ratio (20%)
4. Citations per Faculty (20%)
5. International Student Ratio (5%)
6. International Staff Ratio (5%)
The broad measures used by this survey, together with their respective weightings are as follows:
1. Teaching: Learning Environment (30%)
2. Knowledge Transfer, Citations: research influence (30%)
3. Research: volume, income and reputation (30%)
4. International outlook: staff, students and research (7.5%)
5. Industry income: innovation (2.5%)
The following criteria are used:
1. Quality of Education: Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10%)
2. The Quality of Faculty: Staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20%) as well as highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories (20%)
3. Research Output – papers indexed in Nature and Science (20%) as well as papers indexed in Science and Social Science Citation Indexes (20%)
4. Per Capita Performance: per capita academic performance of an institution (10%)
How is information gathered? A combination of qualitative and quantitative research. Academic reputation is assessed via a global survey of academics who are asked to identify the institutions at which they believe the best work is taking place in their particular field of expertise. QS conduct an annual survey of 28 800 graduate employers and they are asked to identify which universities’ they perceive to produce the best graduates. The remaining statistical information (e.g. the number of staff employed versus the relative number of students) is obtained directly from the Universities. Information is submitted by Universities and they provide a sign-off on data provided for the rankings. Use is also made of various websites to source information about number of Citations, mention in research journals etc. Institutions with a research output of fewer than 1000 published reports between 2008 and 2012 are excluded from the rankings.

A simple explanation of the methodology used is available on this YouTube clip:

Data is sourced from various websites such as the Nobel Laureates, Fields Medals and Citation indexes. Data is also obtained from national agencies such as the National Ministry of Education, National Bureau of Statistics, NACE etc.
How many Universities are included in the survey? 800 Universities globally Top 1000 Universities globally More than 1 200 Universities are actually ranked, though only the best 500 are published on the web.

When comparing the three surveys it is evident that both the THE and Shanghai surveys are largely quantitative in nature whereas the QS survey does include a qualitative component. There is a fair amount of emphasis placed on research output by all three surveys but they also measure staff: student ratio’s and the number of students graduating.
How do our South African Universities rank in each Survey?
Not all our 25 Institutions of Higher Learning are included in the rankings – as explained in the table, above, this is due to certain criteria not being met. The table, below, shows the rankings, in order, of our Universities that do meet the qualifying criteria. Where possible we have shown comparative rankings between 2015 and either 2016 or 2017, depending on the information available. Rankings that have gone down are in shown in red, improved rankings are shown in green and rankings that have remained the same are shown in orange.

Institution Global Ranking, QS World University Rankings Global Ranking, THE World University Rankings Global Ranking, Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities
2017 2015 2017 2015 2017 2015
University of Cape Town 191 141 148 124 301-400 201-300
University of the Witwatersrand 359 318 182 274 201-300 201-300
Stellenbosch University 395 390 401-500 276-300 401-500 401-500
University of Pretoria 551-600 471-480 601-800 No ranking No ranking No ranking
Rhodes University 551-600 601-650 No ranking No ranking No ranking No ranking
University of Johannesburg 601-650 601-650 601-800 No ranking No ranking No ranking
University of Kwazulu-Natal 651-700 501-650 501-600 No ranking 401-500 401-500
North West University 701+ No ranking No ranking No ranking No ranking No ranking
University of the Western Cape 701+ No ranking 601-800 No ranking No ranking No ranking

Both the QS and THE Surveys have introduced a “BRICS Ranking” – this aims to compare the top 250 Universities in the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These rankings are designed to provide insights into the relative strengths and weaknesses of leading institutions in these fast-developing economies.

Institution QS University Rankings: BRICS Top 200 Universities THE University Rankings: BRICS
2016 2015 2017 2015
University of Cape Town 14 9 4 4
University of the Witwatersrand 26 31 8 14
Stellenbosch University 35 34 42 17
University of Pretoria 49 46 74 77
University of Johannesburg 63 63 141 No ranking
University of Kwazulu-Natal 72 60 58 47
Rhodes University 75 76 No ranking No ranking
University of the Western Cape 111-120 92 102 No ranking
University of the Free State 131-140 101-110 No ranking No ranking
Nelson Mandela University 151-200 151-200 No ranking No ranking
North West University 151-200 151-200 No ranking No ranking

What do the University Rankings tell us?
It is clear from reviewing both the global and BRICS rankings that our Universities achieve different numerical rankings, depending on which survey you look at. They are, however, generally ranked in the same order which would indicate some consistency between the surveys. In global terms, 7 of our Universities are ranked among the top 800 Universities in the world – UCT, Wits, Stellenbosch, Tukkies, UKZN, UJ and Rhodes University.

Comparative Rankings between 2015 and 2016/2017
When we compare the QS World Rankings between this year and 2015 Stellenbosch, the University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, Rhodes and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal have all slipped downwards whilst the University of Johannesburg has remained the same. Similarly, when comparing the THE World rankings UCT, and Stellenbosch have slipped.
The QS BRICS rankings look a little better with the Wits and Rhodes having gone up slightly and the University of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela University and the University of the Western Cape having remained at the same level. All other Institutions have gone down in their ranking. The THE QS rankings have UCT remaining at the same ranking whilst Wits and the University of Pretoria have gone up slightly. Stellenbosch University and UKZN have gone down.
In a recent article published on by Michelle Gumede the Editorial director of THE, Phil Baty, is quoted as saying that “institutions in SA have been heavily affected by issues such as student protests and insufficient funding, which affected international perception and the general academic environment.”

What do these rankings mean for Employers?
When reviewing information of this nature – i.e. any kind of survey, it is always important to understand what is being measured, what the size of the sample is and whether, when we compare data, we are comparing like with like. Our analysis of the three different surveys reveals slightly different methodologies as well as differing weightings. The fact that there is only a minor difference in the rankings of our South African Universities across the three surveys provides reassurance that there is consistency between them.
All three surveys can be “sliced and diced” by Faculty as well as by Subject (the QS survey tells us more about our Universities by Faculty/Subject than the other two surveys do). So, for example if, using the QS survey, you investigate by subject and choose “Communications and Media studies” then Rhodes, UCT and Wits are all ranked the same at between 151-200. If you look up “Agriculture and Forestry” then Stellenbosch is ranked at 51-100, ahead of UCT, Pretoria and UKZN. So, always bear in mind what you are looking for when using surveys of this nature – and be prepared to delve a little deeper than just an overall ranking!

Despite some slippage in our University rankings we must remain encouraged that, as a country, we have 7 Institutions which are among the top 800 Universities in the WORLD! If we consider that there are approximately 20 000 Universities in the world, this means that we have 7 Institutions that rank in the top 4% of Universities globally. Now that is something we can be proud of!

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