Funding clamp hurts top SA universities’ reputations internationally

South Africa’s cash-strapped universities are suffering a slide on global rankings‚ with the University of Cape Town (UCT) dropping 20 places and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) falling by 28 places in the latest QS World University Rankings.

While UCT still tops the country’s list on the QS ranking for 2016/2017‚ published on Tuesday‚ it now ranks 191st worldwide.

Wits is now ranked 359th.

The University of Pretoria (UP) and Rhodes University (RU) fell from the 501-550 band to the 551-600 band.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) slipped into the 651-700 band‚ from 551-600 a year ago.

However‚ Stellenbosch University (SU) broke into the top 400 (in 395th place‚ from the 401-410 band in 2015).

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) remained stable in the 601-650 band.

Newcomers‚ the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and North West University (NWU)‚ entered into the rankings in the 701+ band. They were included as part of this year’s expansion; 916 universities are now ranked‚ up from 800 last year.

Compiled by the QS Intelligence Unit in consultation with an international advisory board of leading academics‚ the QS World University Rankings show that South African institutions struggled across all of QS’s metrics this year.

The rankings are based on four key pillars: research‚ teaching‚ employability and internationalisation. The methodology consists of six weighted indicators: academic reputation (40%)‚ employer reputation (10%)‚ faculty student ratio (20%)‚ citations per faculty (20%)‚ international students (5%)‚ and international faculty (5%).

The head of research at QS’s Intelligence Unit‚ Ben Sowter‚ suggests that South Africa’s performance follows this year’s global trend‚ which emphasised the importance of targeted‚ prolonged investment.

He notes‚ however; that South Africa’s universities have been “suffering funding shortfalls” and that fee freezes will exacerbate this shortfall.

“This year’s rankings imply that levels of investment are determining who progresses and who regresses. Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding‚ whether from endowments or from the public purse‚ are rising. On the other hand‚ western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their US and Asian counterparts‚” Sowter said.

Seven of the nine SA universities measured by QS saw their rankings slip on academic reputation‚ employer reputation and for faculty/student ratio‚ QS’s measure of teaching quality‚ while the only ranked SA universities that did not get marked down for their research performance are Wits‚ UP and UKZN.

According to QS‚ 74 651 academics and 37 781 employers’ responses contributed towards the results‚ “making both surveys the largest of their kind in the world”.

“Over 3 800 institutions were considered for inclusion this year and 916 ranked‚ 25 more than in 2015‚” the report read.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has been in ongoing consultations with university vice-chancellors and council chairs‚ student leaders and youth organisations‚ organised labour‚ faith communities and government officials to navigate a way through the financial strain experienced by universities across South Africa in the wake of #FeesMustFall concessions.

The minister said recently: “We want to ensure that academically capable young people are not denied access to higher education because they come from historically disadvantaged backgrounds‚ while at the same time ensuring that universities are sustained and strengthened.”

SNAPSHOT OF THE LATEST QS RANKINGS

- UCT drops 20 places‚ though is still South Africa’s best university. It now ranks 191st.

- Wits drops 28 places. It is now ranked 359th;

- SU breaks into the top 400;

- UP falls from the 501-550 band to the 551-600 band;

- RU also drops from the 501-550 band to the 551-600 band;

- UJ remains stable in the 601-650 band;

- Two new South African universities enter the rankings this year. These are UWC and NWU. Both rank in the 701+ band.

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