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SA Higher Education System in top 10 globally in Universitas 21 ranking

South Africa’s higher education system is ranked among the best in the world, after adjusting for countries’ levels of economic development, according to the latest 2018 Universitas 21 (U21) Ranking of National Higher Education Systems, which was published last week.

Compiled by Universitas 21 (U21), an elite leading global consortium of 26 research-intensive universities – of which the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is the only African university member – this annual ranking reveals the world’s top countries for higher education. Unlike conventional global university ranking systems that focus on the performance of individual higher education institutions, the U21 Ranking takes a holistic view by evaluating and comparing the performance of countries’ higher education systems as a whole – the only ranking to do so.

In its seventh year, the U21 Ranking assesses the national systems of higher education of fifty countries, from all continents, across 24 performance measures grouped into four CORE areas: ‘Connectivity’, ‘Output’, ‘Resources’, and ‘Environment’. The first pair measure outcomes and the second two are input measures. The ‘Connectivity’ area examines the interconnections between tertiary institutions and external stakeholders, both domestic and foreign, and comprises five measures: web-based connectivity, student internationalisation, international co-authorship, industry collaboration, and knowledge transfer with business. The nine ‘Output’ measures encompass an array of attributes such as: student participation and throughput, graduate yield and employability, stock of researchers, research output and its impact, and the extent to which a country boasts world-class universities. The ‘Resources’ area is based on five higher education expenditure measures, including both government funding and investment from the private sector, in total and for research and development. In the last category, the five ‘Environment’ measures explore: institutional diversity, competition, financial autonomy, external performance monitoring, and endorsement of business. The results for each area are then combined into an overall ranking by assigning a weighting of 40% to ‘Output’ and 20% to each of the other three areas.

South Africa is ranked eighth globally in the subsidiary development-adjusted ranking which provides a comparison of the performance of countries relative to those at similar stages of economic development, quantified by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms. This compensates for differences in prices and income levels across nations. European countries dominate the top end of the GDP-adjusted rankings table, with Finland claiming pole position, followed, in rank order, by the United Kingdom, Serbia, Denmark, and Sweden. When GDP per capita is taken into account, South Africa is in the top 10 worldwide for ‘Connectivity’, ‘Output’, and ‘Resources.’

In the main unadjusted ranking, which is based on absolute performance, South Africa is placed 37th in the world – the highest position it has held for the past three years. South Africa’s 2018 placement combines ranks of 32 for ‘Connectivity’, 36 for ‘Output’, 41 for ‘Resources’, and 22 for ‘Environment’. The United States remained in the top spot, followed, in rank order, by Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. South Africa is one of only a handful of countries that has shown the largest improvement over the past seven years, climbing eight places from 45th in 2012.

After allowing for different national levels of income, comparing the GDP-adjusted ranking with the non-adjusted ranking, South Africa’s rank position improved by 29 places from 37th to eighth worldwide with a score well above that at its level of GDP per capita. On an income-adjusted basis, South Africa is amongst the top countries for: total expenditure per student, research expenditure as a share of GDP, proportion of international students, joint publications with international researchers, joint publications with industry, and average research citation impact. South Africa is the only African country represented in this top 50 U21 Ranking.

UJ explores the Fourth Industrial Revolution at U21 AGM

In May 2018, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal (UJ), together with Prof Saurabh Sinha, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation (UJ) and Dr Oscar van Heerden, incoming Senior Director: Internationalisation attended the Universitas 21 (U21) Annual General Meeting in Melbourne, Australia.

The U21 AGM has received inputs from UJ in a number of areas, including the approach for The Fourth Industrial Revolution, associated education, research and innovation outputs; furthermore, the network creates an opportunity for a wide range of student exchanges. This network further creates an opportunity for a wide range of student exchanges. UJ will also participate in the U21-PwC Innovation Challenge 2018/9 in support of graduate student innovation.


For further details and information on how other countries fared, the full 2018 report can be viewed here.

Information about Universitas 21 can be found on their website:


U21 Ranking Uj
From left to right: Dr Oscar van Heerden, Senior Director: Internationalisation (UJ), Prof Tshilidzi Marwala,
Vice-Chancellor and Principal (UJ) and Prof Saurabh Sinha, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation (UJ)
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