A total of 31 African universities are on a list of 1,300 universities in the world that have been ranked based on indicators including academic reputation, citations per faculty, employer reputation, faculty to student ratio, ratio of international faculty members and ratio of international students.
The latest list, the QS World University Rankings 2022, was released on 8 June in London, United Kingdom, by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the international firm that provides academic services, analytics and insights into the higher education sector.
Unlike the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 released on 4 March, the latest rankings were based on a more extensive range of indicators.
According to Serena Ricci, the communications manager at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, researchers obtained responses from 130,000 academics and interviewed about 75,000 employers about the relationship between the universities and graduate employability.
“In our efforts to measure research impact at a university, we divided the total number of citations received by a university’s research papers over a five-year period by the number of faculty at an institution,” Ricci told University World News in an interview.
Africa’s top performers
In Africa’s context, the University of Cape Town was the best performing university as it was ranked in position 226 globally, a position it shared with the University of Sussex, UK, and the University of Virginia in the United States. But it dropped from position 220, which it held in the 2021 rankings.
The University of the Witwatersrand also in South Africa, was placed in position 424 and was in a group of five universities in Africa to be ranked above position 500.
Others in this category included the University of Johannesburg, in position 434, which improved from the 439 in the previous round of QS rankings.
The American University in Cairo at position 445 was joined by Stellenbosch University, South Africa, at position 482, and completed the number of African universities in the category 1-500 universities in the world.
Six other African universities were placed on the list of 1,000 universities and they are located in South Africa (3), Egypt (2) and Tunisia (1).
In this regard, Cairo University was placed in the 571-580 category, followed by the University of Pretoria in the 601-650 category, which slipped marginally from 561-570 in the 2021 rankings.
The University of Sousse in Tunisia, which was not on the 2021 list, made a strong entry onto Africa’s academic scene when it took the eighth position on the continent after it was placed in the 701-750 category, although it was not ranked in the 2021 rankings.
In the latest rankings, Rhodes University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, both in South Africa, and Ain Shams University of Egypt were placed in the 801-1,000 category.
In total, 11 African universities appeared on the list of the 1,000 top-ranked universities.
In addition, 10 other universities were placed in the 1,001-1,200 category. In this group are five Egyptian universities, namely, Assiut, Alexandria, Suez Canal and Al Azhar universities and the British University in Egypt.
Two South African universities, the University of the Western Cape and North-West University, were included, together with the University of Ghana, Kenya’s University of Nairobi and Uganda’s Makerere University.
Another 10 African universities, five from Egypt, two each from Sudan and Tunisia, and one from Morocco, were classified into the category of 1,200+.
The Egyptian universities are the Mansoura, Helwan, Tanta and Zagazig universities as well as the German University in Cairo. From Tunisia are the University of Tunis and its counterpart, the University of Tunis El Manar.
Others in this category are the University of Khartoum, the Sudan University of Science and Technology and Morocco’s Mohammed V University in Rabat.
Although the current ranking confirmed South Africa’s higher education system as the most dominant in Africa, as it had seven of its universities among the top 1,000 universities, there are indicators of a rising Egyptian tertiary education sector that not only had three universities among the top 1,000 but also had 13 universities out of the 31 African universities in the overall rankings.
Jack Moran, the spokesperson and member of the rankings steering committee at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, noted that many African universities had not been doing well.
For instance, out of 54 countries in the continent, only eight countries had universities in any of the ranked group categories. Apart from Egypt and South Africa, the rest of the countries had very few of their universities in the rankings. Tunisia had three universities in the group, Sudan two, while Ghana, Kenya and Uganda had one university each.
“The main issues are in research impact in terms of citations per paper, as well as academic reputation, as top scores for these indicators are relatively low in African universities,” Moran told University World News, in an interview before the rankings were released.
Africa’s universities were also affected by limited internationalisation of their education because of their inability to attract inbound students and international faculty. Apart from South African universities, which recruit a large number of students from member states of the Southern African Development Community, most African universities barely have international students.
The quality of education in African academia has also continued to suffer from the progressive loss of some of its best scholars to outbound migration from the continent. Low wages and poor working environment have been catalysts for the emigration from and brain-drain of African universities.
As the current rankings showed, competition was tight and eventually some of Africa’s big public universities outside Egypt and South Africa failed to make an impression, while lesser known universities emerged to claim academic leadership in the continent.
One such university is Tunisia’s University of Sousse that was placed eighth in Africa, effectively performing better than most and many much older universities on the continent.
According to Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the University of Sousse was established in 2004, when University of the Centre was split into three institutions.
The rise of University of Sousse has been attributed to its capacity to carry higher education reforms, as in 2006 it was one of the first universities in Tunisia to adopt the bachelor, masters and doctorate progression of qualifications. It has also signed about 60 international research and academic cooperation conventions with universities from other parts the world.
Although most of the African rankings were dominated by the big public universities, two private universities, the British University in Egypt and the German University in Cairo, joined the much older American University in Cairo, as the only three private universities in the African group.
The British University in Egypt, placed in the category of 1,001-1,200 and appearing in the rankings for the first time, was founded in 2005 through an inter-governmental pact in which the university was to provide a high-quality British style of education.
Its degrees are equally validated by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Universities and the British partner universities that include Queen Margaret University and London South Bank University.
The German University in Cairo is also making academic strides in Africa. It was established in 2002 through a presidential decree.
It has the support of several academic German entities that include the University of Stuttgart and the University of Tübingen, among other universities, as well as the German Academic Exchange Service and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The university offers academic programmes leading to degree that are recognised through the Bologna Process.