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SA universities drop in rankings

SA universities drop in rankings

South African universities have failed to gain a place in the QS University Ranking for BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. The ranking compares the top 400 institutions in the five major emerging national economies.

The ranking is published shortly after the Chinese Parliament has ratified the creation of the BRICS Development Bank. The agreement has already been ratified in India and Russia. The New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS Bank, will finance infrastructure and development projects in BRICS countries, which are likely to include higher education related investments to further increase the global competitiveness of these economies.

Martin Ince, convenor of the QS global academic advisory board says: “The BRICS nations share a desire to grow in economic and political importance without copying the Western model of development. This ranking exists to see how this ambition is being reflected in their university systems.”

The 2015 results confirm that China is strengthening its dominant position while India has seen a rise of more than 50% in the number of institutions listed in the top 200 in the latest ranking.

Brazil, Russia and China each have one university in the two 10, with China taking the other seven places. South Africa has a contender in the two 20, versus China’s nine, India’s five, and two each for Russia and Brazil.

Ince comments: “South Africa is the smallest of the BRICS nations by some distance. Its population of 54-million would add up to a single province in China, home to 1,37-billion people. In addition, South Africa has ferocious social and political problems to which there is no overnight solution. But it is also a technologically advanced nation, and the richest per capita in Africa.”

In the QS World University Rankings, South Africa emerges by a wide margin as the continent’s leading power in higher education

In the BRICS rankings, University of Cape Town comes in at number 14, followed by University of the Witwatersrand at 28, Stellenbosch at 34, University of Pretoria at 49, University of Johannesburg at 67, University of KwaZulu-Natal at 68, Rhodes University at 79, University of the Western Cape at 100. Other universities that made the listing are University of the Free State, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Fort Hare, University of Limpopo and University of Zululand.

Overall, South Africa has 5.5% of the BRICS’ top universities despite comprising only 1.7% of the population of the BRICS nations. In addition, eight of these 11 are in the top 100.
However, it is also notable that of these 11, seven are in a lower position in the BRICS ranking than in 2014. Most of the falls are slight. However, the University of the Free State has fallen from the 101-110 bracket to 121-130, while the University of Kwazulu-Natal is down eight places from 60 to 68.

South Africa’s success in these rankings is due in part to its continuing links to Europe and the US, reinforced after the end of apartheid by a new willingness to engage with South Africa on the part of developed world academics.

Proof of these close international connections can be found in the survey of global academic reputation which accounts for 30% of each university’s possible score in this ranking. With some minor exceptions, all South African institutions fare better in this survey than in the ranking overall. For example, the University of Pretoria is 49th in this ranking but comes 29th in the BRICS region for academic reputation.

A clearer idea of the problems facing South Africa’s universities emerges from our analysis of their faculty/student ratio. The best-performing South African institution here is the University of Johannesburg. It is placed 164th in the
BRICS region on this measure. Cape Town is at 184 and no other South African university is above 200 and five are below 300. These are poor results which have been getting poorer. Nine of the 11 institutions we list from South Africa have fallen on this measure since 2014.

Managers of these universities argue that their faculty/student ratio is essentially set by government, which presses them to admit more students but does not fund them well enough to hire more staff. These tricky educational
economics mean, too, that South Africa’s academics are not well-paid by world standards. As a result, many do not have a PhD. Even Cape Town is 158th in the BRICS region on this measure, down 40 from last year. South Africa’s top performer here, Stellenbosch, is up 38 places to 130, still a far from successful outcome.

Despite these issues, there are signs that South African universities are of international standing. Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal have among the highest percentages of international faculty in the entire BRICS region, well ahead of major universities in the other four BRICS nations. They are also good at bringing in international students, with Rhodes and Cape Town especially strong on this measure. This is especially impressive because South Africa is one nation whose government does not push universities to import students. Instead, it presses them to keep places available for home students in the light of the country’s severe need for trained professionals.