African universities have made dramatic progress in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2023 as, for the first time, 97 universities from 17 countries, up from 71 last year, have been rated to be part of the best universities globally, with 10 of them in the top 500.
The contingent from Africa is being led by the University of Cape Town in South Africa that has jumped forward 23 places to 160th spot globally, from 183rd position last year, and it is the only university on the continent that forms part of the top 200 universities.
Two other South African universities, Stellenbosch University and the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits, are both in the 251-300 category, tied in second place, while Ghana’s University of Cape Coast in the 351-400 bracket has been placed fourth.
Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences of Tanzania, a newcomer into the rankings, stormed into the world top 500 universities as it was placed in the 401-500 band.
In comparison with the rest of the best-ranked universities in Africa, Muhimbili is relatively new, as it was hived off from the University of Dar es Salaam and was only accorded full-fledged university status by the Tanzania Commission for Universities in 2007.
What does the data say?
But, commenting on the progress made by the universities in Africa, Phil Baty, the chief knowledge officer at THE, said the data indicate these universities are becoming more prominent and competitive on the world stage.
“Not only has the University of Cape Town risen higher up the rankings this year, but the overall representation for Africa has dramatically increased its knowledge economy,” Baty told University World News on October 12 when the rankings were released.
According to Baty, 25 African universities are ranked for the first time, while five African countries, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have entered the global stage with universities that meet rigorous international academic benchmarks.
In this context, Nigeria has been highly commended for doubling its number of ranked universities from six to 12 with the University of Lagos this year climbing into the world’s top 500 as it has been placed in the group band of 401-500.
Other African universities that are in that category included Aswan University in Egypt, Ferhat Abbas Setif University 1 of Algeria, Nigeria’s University of Ibadan and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
In total, 40 African universities have been ranked among the world’s top 1,000 universities, a ranking indicator that occasionally signals a university’s entry into the global high academic leagues.
For instance, five universities are among the top 600 globally as they were in the group band of 501-600 and they included newcomers, Damietta University of Egypt, Jimma University of Ethiopia and University of Zambia. Others in the group were South Africa’s Durban University of Technology and Kafrelsheikh University of Egypt, both previously featured institutions.
According to the rankings, 12 African universities were in the group band of 601-800 and most of them had been ranked before, apart from the newcomers to the rankings this year – Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique and the University of Namibia.
Others in the group included four Egyptian universities, Benha, Fayoum, Mansoura and Minia universities, as well as three South African institutions, namely, the University of Johannesburg, North-West University and the University of the Western Cape.
Ethiopia’s University of Addis Ababa, as well as Covenant University in Nigeria and Kenya’s University of Nairobi are also in the top 800 group.
The list of Africa’s top 1,000 universities globally was completed by some of the well-known Egyptian universities, such as the universities of Al-Azhar, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez Canal, as well as the American University in Cairo.
More Egyptian universities in the group were Beni-Suef, Tanta, Zagazig and Zewail City of Science, Technology and Innovation.
Three South African universities, the University of Pretoria, Rhodes University and newcomer the University of the Free State, as well as Makerere University of Uganda were also included in that cohort.
Ranked institutions not evenly spread
Although Africa’s footprint on the quality of higher education seemed to be rising, the crux of the matter is that it is not evenly spread across the continent, as almost 70% of the universities that were ranked by researchers in this round were from only four countries.
In this regard, Egypt had 26 universities, or about 27% of the total number of the universities, while South Africa was second with 15 universities, Algeria 13 and Nigeria 12.
Morocco and Tunisia each had eight universities, while Ghana had three, as well as Ethiopia and Tanzania two universities each on the overall ranking index. Eight other countries, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda and the five newcomers, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe all had one university each on the list.
Further, about 60% of the universities in Africa that have been classified are in the lower rankings – as 18 of them are in the group band of 1,001-1,200 while 23 others are in the category of 1,201-1,500 and another 16 are listed in the last category of 1,500+.
But the good news is that, of 25 universities that made it into the competitive rankings and scored pretty well, eight of them, led by Muhimbili, have been ranked among the world’s top 1,000 and four others made it to the top 1,200 universities.
That group included two Nigerian universities, University of Bayero and Federal University of Technology Akure, that were joined by the University of Mauritius and the University of Zimbabwe.
In approval of the performance of the African universities this year, Baty was optimistic that the emerging academic visibility on the world stage will inevitably increase competitiveness of the universities, a move that was likely to arrest the brain drain from the continent.