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Johannesburg - The University of Cape Town is leading the pack of South African institutions in an international ranking of the world’s top 400 universities.
The university was ranked 145, up nine places from last year’s 154.
The 2013/14 ranking, by QS (Quacquarelli Symonds), a British company specialising in higher education, is the university’s highest position in the ranking’s nine-year history.
South Africa’s top five universities have all improved their positions, with Wits - the number two of South African universities at number 313 - moving up 50 places.
In total, seven local universities featured in the rankings, with three nabbing a spot in the top 400.
For this year’s rankings, more than 3 000 universities were considered and, ultimately, 800 universities - 100 more than last year’s 700 - were ranked, according to QS.
“The QS World University Rankings are based on four key pillars: research, teaching, employability and internationalisation. The methodology consists of six indicators: academic reputation (40 percent); employer reputation (10 percent); faculty student ratio (20 percent); citations per faculty (20 percent); international students (5 percent); and international faculty (5 percent),” the company said.
In addition to this, 62 094 academic and 27 957 employer responses were used to get to the results, making both surveys the largest of their kind in the world.
Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg were included in the rankings for the first time this year, falling in the 551-600 and 601-650 categories respectively.
Vickie Chiu, QS’s public relations manager, said only the top 400 universities are given a specific position.
“Beyond (the top 400), they are categorised in bands as the difference in performance between the universities in each of the bands is not significant enough to say one university has performed better than another in the same group.”
QS found that UCT’s success was “driven by a strong performance for research citations, suggesting that it is producing work with a global impact”.
QS head of research Ben Sowter said: “Developing world-class universities will be vital in helping South Africa realise its huge potential for economic growth in the coming years. This year’s rankings suggest the nation’s leading institutions are beginning to have greater global visibility, and UCT, in particular, is producing a significant amount of high-impact research.”
UCT spokeswoman Patricia Lucas said a good performance in the rankings showed that South Africans and Africans can receive world-class education at home.
“Prospective students and staff the world over use the rankings to decide where to study and work,” Lucas said.
“In the South African context, where we have to allocate resources to bridging the gap between inadequate schooling and the high standards of a leading university, there is a risk that too much focus on the rankings might divert resources away from spending to improve access, because there are no criteria to measure that factor.”