Best 15 African universities in 2016

Graduation ceremony for students at the University of Nairobi
Copyright: Betty Press/Panos

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  • Out of 800 top universities worldwide, only 15 in Africa make the cut
  • The universities were rated based on indicators such as research and innovation
  • Experts say that partnerships are key to being among the best being best

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[ACCRA] Only 15 universities in Africa have been ranked among the top 800 in the world.  
The results by the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings were published last month (21 April) and presented at THE 2nd Africa Universities Summit at the University of Ghana, Accra, a week later (27-29 April).
South African universities dominated the top rankings, taking six positions, with only Uganda’s Makerere University the only institution outside South Africa to make the top five in fourth place. The University of Ghana and Kenya-based University of Nairobi are ranked in seventh and eight places, respectively.


According to UK-based Times Higher Education, the rankings resulted from use of indicators such as research in terms of volume, income and reputation; reputation for research excellence; citations and the role in knowledge transfer through measuring the ability to help industry with innovations, inventions and consultancies.

“One of the ways around it involves forming partnerships, which allow graduate students to use equipment and teaching facilities of other universities”

Naa A. Adamafio, University of Ghana


Researchers also measured international outlook such as the universities’ ability to attract international students and faculty. Researchers calculated the proportion of a university’s total research journal publications with at least one international co-author and reward higher volumes.
Learning environment and the perceived prestige of institutions in teaching also formed part of the ratings.
THE randomly selected 10,323 scholars from 133 countries who have published at least a paper within the Elsevier Scopus database and asked them to identify 15 top universities based on their disciplines. The survey was conducted between January 2016 and March 2016. Researchers also obtained data on performance indicators from universities and analysed them.

Figure 1: Reputation calculation, based on the 2016 World University Rankings
 Click here to expand

Kenneth King, emeritus professor at the  University of Edinburg in the United Kingdom, says that African universities have to form collaborations with other universities to spur innovations to tackle problems in health, agriculture and transportation.
Phil Baty, editor of the World University Rankings, says Africa’s human capital can be fully developed as its most precious resource through sustained investment in higher education, science, technology, research and innovation.
The ranking emphasises the crucial importance of a world-class infrastructure for learning and research, he adds.
Baty tells SciDev.Net. “The vision of Africa’s development priorities talks about ensuring that the continent is an influential global player and partner with well-educated and skilled citizens, underpinned by science, technology and innovation for a knowledge society.
Naa A. Adamafio, dean of international programmes at the University of Ghana, explains that it is very expensive for African universities to run programmes in science and technology, because it requires equipment, chemicals and upgrade of new models to aid teaching.

“One of the ways around it involves forming partnerships, which allow graduate students to use equipment and teaching facilities of other universities when such facilities are not available to some universities in Africa,” she tells SciDev.Net.
Research in Africa requires more investment and stronger commitment from governments to fund university research to help achieve the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which aims to drive the African economy and realise an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, Baty adds.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.