Global rankings: UCT rises in research ranking

05 July 2024 | Story Staff writer. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 4 min.
UCT has been ranked 116th globally by the US News Best Global Universities Rankings, up nine places.
UCT has been ranked 116th globally by the US News Best Global Universities Rankings, up nine places.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) remains the top university in South Africa and on the continent according to the 2024–2025 US News Best Global Universities rankings. UCT was also ranked in the top 100 for seven subjects and in the top 200 for a further 10.

UCT has been placed at 116th position, up from 125th last year, by the US News Best Global Universities Rankings. This ranking differs from most other widely recognised world university rankings because it focuses solely on academic research and reputation.

The methodology measures a university’s global and regional research reputation and academic research performance using indicators such as publications, citations (the number of times a publication is referred to), and international collaboration.

UCT’s acting deputy vice-chancellor for Research and Internationalisation, Professor Jeff Murugan, said: “While rankings assess various aspects of university quality, such as academic reputation, research output, faculty expertise and student satisfaction, they often don’t capture the full breadth of the impact of our work. These rankings typically focus on measurable criteria, but universities also play a vital role in shaping public policy, promoting informed public discourse, advancing science and strengthening democracy and human rights. These contributions, though harder to quantify, are essential to the holistic value that universities provide to society.

Top 100 subjects

UCT’s strongest performance was in infectious disease, and a further eight subjects were in the top 100 globally:

  • infectious diseases (24th)
  • public, environmental and occupations health (44th)
  • immunology (51st)
  • marine and freshwater biology (69th)
  • social sciences and public health (78th)
  • neuroscience and behaviour (86th)
  • meteorology and atmospheric sciences (92nd)
  • ecology (95th)
  • microbiology (97th).

“UCT’s leading research in health sciences showcases the strength and depth of our long history of research reputation and excellence,” said Professor Murugan. “We are also pleased to see our strong performance across various fields of study in these subject rankings, as it reflects UCT’s focus on knowledge grounded in the African context that contributes to the social, environmental and economic well-being of people across the continent.”

Professor Digby Warner, the director of UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), noted: “University ranking lists need to be viewed with caution. That said, the prominent position achieved in the infectious disease category is a pleasing acknowledgment of the global impact local researchers – many of whom are based in the IDM – are making in tackling important health problems of direct relevance in our setting. Rather than complacency, though, this accolade really serves as motivation for us to redouble our efforts in developing and applying world-leading indigenous clinical and scientific research capacity that can transform health interventions and outcomes.”

A further 10 subjects were ranked in the top 200:

  • clinical medicine (102nd)
  • psychiatry/psychology (102nd)
  • environment/ecology (121st)
  • molecular biology and genetics (128th)
  • cardiac and cardiovascular systems (136th)
  • space science (169th)
  • plant and animal science (171st)
  • surgery (183rd)
  • geosciences (192nd)
  • arts and humanities (194th).

US News included new subject area rankings in four fields in the 2024–2025 ranking: ecology, green and sustainable science and technology, environmental engineering, and marine and freshwater biology.  

This brings the total number of subjects ranked by US News to 51, up from 47 previously. UCT ranked 95th in ecology and 69th in marine and freshwater biology.   

Each ranking has its own methodology based on academic research performance and reputation, tailored to the unique publication characteristics of its field.

Country performance

China is the top-performing country by a considerable margin in the overall ranking, with 396 ranked universities (17.6%). The United States came in second place with 283 universities (12.6%). Japan came in third with 112 universities (5%). India was fourth with 109 universities (4.8%). The United Kingdom was fifth with 96 universities, or 4.3% of the total. South Africa has 15 universities (0.67%) in the top 2 250.

Rankings of the year

UCT has done very well in global rankings this year. Just last month, the university climbed from the 101–200 band to 77th position in the 2024 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measures universities’ progress against the Sustainable Development Goals. UCT was ranked 167th in the Times Higher World University Rankings in 2024 and climbed from 173rd to 171st in the Quacquarelli Symonds World Rankings (2025).

UCT leads in Africa in all the five major world university rankings, the other two being Shanghai Ranking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Center for World University Rankings.

Read more about the US News methodology.

View the Best Global Universities Rankings.

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