Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2015

Top 10 Universities in South Africa 2015

Laura Tucker

Updated September 12, 2021 Updated September 12

**This article is for the 2015 results. Click here to find out the 10 top universities in South Africa in 2016.

If you want to study at one of the top universities in South Africa, you may be interested in the recently released QS University Rankings: BRICS 2015 – a ranking of the leading institutions in the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

A total of 14 South African universities are featured in the ranking, which assesses universities’ performance on eight indicators relating to global reputation, academic staff levels, research production and impact, and internationalization.

Read on for an overview of the top 10 universities in South Africa according to the QS University Rankings: BRICS 2015, alongside information about each institution’s location, size, subject strengths and global standing.

1.  University of Cape Town

University of Cape Town, South Africa
Sitting among the slopes of Table Mountain’s Devil’s Peak in Cape Town, the University of Cape Town is the oldest of all South African universities, founded in 1829. A public research institution, the University of Cape Town is ranked 14th in the 2015 BRICS ranking and 141st in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15. Currently home to over 26,300 students and the alma mater of five Nobel Laureates, the University of Cape Town is also affiliated with the hospital responsible for the world’s first heart transplant.

Ranked among the world’s leading universities in an impressive 23 subjects in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2015, the University of Cape Town performs best for development studies (7th in the world) and geography (39th).

2.  University of the Witwatersrand

University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Located in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest and wealthiest city, the University of the Witwatersrand is this year ranked joint 28th in BRICS ranking and 318th in the world rankings. Another of the oldest South African universities in operation, established in 1896 as the South African School of Mines, the University of the Witwatersrand has since become a large and comprehensive institution with a student body of almost 31,000. The school is split into five campuses in central (urban) and northern (suburban) Johannesburg.

Like a number of universities in South Africa, the University of the Witwatersrand performs exceptionally well in the field of development studies (for which it’s ranked 15th in the world), and is also ranked internationally in a further 10 subjects.

3.  Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Approximately 50 kilometers east of Cape Town, you’ll find the town of Stellenbosch, which is home to another of the top universities in South Africa, Stellenbosch University. A public research institution, Stellenbosch University is ranked 34th in the BRICS ranking and 390th in the world rankings this year, and currently hosts a total of 28,000 students. Nicknamed the ‘City of Oaks’, the surrounding area of Stellenbosch has a welcoming feel for its large population of students and a rich history. As well as its main campus, Stellenbosch University has departments in Tygerberg, to the north of Cape Town; Bellville Park, to the east of Cape Town; and Saldanha, in the bay area north of Cape Town.

Of the 10 subjects that Stellenbosch University is internationally ranked for, it performs best in the field of development studies (ranked 46th in the world).

4.  University of Pretoria

University of Pretoria, South Africa
Currently home to a student body of over 45,000 across several campuses, the University of Pretoria is one of just a few ‘XL’ universities in South Africa. Established in 1908, this year the university is ranked 49th in the BRICS ranking and 471-480 in the world rankings. Its main campus is based in Pretoria, the capital of the Gauteng province and a city known for its beautiful lilac Jacaranda trees which blossom across the city. Offering programs in Afrikaans and English, the University of Pretoria also boasts the only veterinary school in South Africa, the Gordon Institute of Business Science and a large collection of art and history museums.

Ranked internationally in 11 subjects, the University of Pretoria joins its fellow top universities in South Africa in ranking among the world’s top 100 schools for development studies.

5.  University of Johannesburg

University of Johannesburg, South Africa
The youngest of the 10 top universities in South Africa, the University of Johannesburg came about as the result of a merger between Rand Afrikaans University, the Technikon Witwatersrand and part of Vista University in 2005. Now operating across nine faculties and 90 departments with a student body of over 49,000, the University of Johannesburg is this year placed 67th in the BRICS ranking and 601-650 in the world rankings. The school has four urban campuses across the Johannesburg metropolitan area, including the Auckland Park campus and the Soweto campus, which specializes in business.

Once again, the University of Johannesburg features in the global development studies ranking, in the 51-100 range.

6.  University of Kwazulu-Natal

University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
Another of the young South African universities formed by a merger, the University of Kwazulu-Natalis the result of the University of Natal and the University of Durban-Westville joining together in 2004. The University of Kwazulu-Natal is currently ranked 68th in the BRICS ranking and 501-550 in the world rankings, and is made up of five campuses across the province of Kwazulu-Natal in eastern South Africa. The province itself is known as the former site of the Zulu kingdom and is home to a number of attractive parks, gardens and two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Almost 38,000 students are currently enrolled at the University of Kwazulu-Natal across a broad subject range. In 2012, the ‘KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV’ was opened at the medical campus.

The University of Kwazulu-Natal is globally ranked for four subjects this year: in the top 100 worldwide for development studies, the top 200 for agriculture & forestry and geography, and the top 300 for medicine.

7.  Rhodes University

Rhodes University, South Africa
The oldest university in the Eastern Cape Province, established in 1904, Rhodes University is ranked 79th in the BRICS ranking and 601-650 in the world rankings. Situated in Grahamstown, just over an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, Rhodes University hosts a number of popular annual arts and culture events, including the National Arts Festival and SciFest Africa. One of the smallest of the top universities in South Africa, Rhodes University has a current enrollment of around 7,000 students, almost half of whom reside on campus.

This year, Rhodes University is ranked among the world’s top 200 schools for English language & literature and communication & media studies.

8.  University of the Western Cape

University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Although the University of the Western Cape is not included in the world rankings, it ranks 8th in its country and 100th in this year’s BRICS ranking. Located in the Bellville suburb of the Cape Town municipality, just 20 kilometers from Cape Town’s city center, the University of the Western Cape has been established since 1959 and now has upwards of 15,000 students. Historically, the school has played a significant role in battling racial inequality and discrimination, having originally been opened for black students during the apartheid era.

Despite not featuring in this year’s subject rankings, previous editions have seen the University of the Western Cape ranked at international level for its work in the field of education & training.

9.  University of the Free State

University of the Free State, South Africa
Ranked among the top 130 schools in the latest BRICS ranking, the University of the Free State is situated in the capital city of the Free State province in central South Africa, Bloemfontein (‘blooming fountain’), which is known for its heady abundance of roses. Founded in 1904, the University of the Free State now has more than 30,000 students spread across its main campus and two other satellite campuses. Its attractions include excellent sports and medical facilities, and close proximity to the nation’s judicial capital.

10=.  Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa
Established as a merger in 2005, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is ranked among the top 200 BRICS institutions. Based in Port Elizabeth, a major seaport on the south coast, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University currently has a student body of around 27,000, including 3,000 international students from around the world. Popular for its art school and vocational training programs as well as its coastal setting, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is split between five campuses, including one in the city of George.

10=.  North-West University

North-West University, South Africa
A sneaky 11th addition to our top 10 list of universities in South Africa, North-West University is within the same band in the BRICS ranking as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University – both placed at 151-200. Formed as a merger in 2004, North-West University hosts a total of 47,000 students across three campuses based in Potchefstroom and Mahikeng in the North-East province and Vanderbijlpark in Gauteng province.

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This article was originally published in July 2015 . It was last updated in September 2021

Written by

Laura is a former staff writer for, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.