A total of 36 universities in Africa were among the 2,202 universities in 96 countries globally that had their performances assessed by U-Multirank, a ranking index that routinely analyses higher education institutions in terms of teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional engagement.
The results of the ninth edition of the U-Multirank World University Rankings 2022 were released on 21 June, and were based on two surveys, one that included all the participating institutions and another one covering 62,000 students from 314 institutions.
In addition to the five-pronged academic criteria, U-Multirank 2022 included insights on how universities were dealing with issues on student diversity, social inequality in access to higher education, gender equality and enrolment of under-represented groups of students.
To draw attention to social exclusion in access to higher education, U-Multirank focused on universities’ achievements and drawbacks in the enrolment of students from non-academic backgrounds, or the first-generation students, students with disabilities and mature students. It also focused on the enrolment of students with children and gender diversity.
Publications and patents
In the African context, South Africa and Egypt had 10 universities each in the rankings while Morocco had five, Tunisia three, Angola and Ghana two each. Algeria, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda were each represented by a single university.
On an academic basis, universities in Africa were highly rated in the international orientation category, as 21 of them scored A grades, which was an indication of a sound performance in international joint publications. In this group were six Egyptian universities: Alexandria, Assiut, Mansoura, Nile, Tanta and Zagazig.
South Africa had four universities in this category, namely Cape Town, North-West, Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand, while Morocco was represented by the Euromed University in Fez, as well as Ibn Tofail University and Mohammed V University in Rabat.
Tunisian universities, namely, the University of Tunis El Manar, the University of Monastir and the University of Sfax were also in the group, with Kenya’s Strathmore University, Uganda’s Makerere University, Ghana’s University of Professional Studies in Accra and the Namibia University of Science and Technology.
In the category of knowledge transfer, the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University scored A’s for their number of patents, while Strathmore University was awarded a similar grade for its co-publications with industrial partners.
The universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, the Witwatersrand in South Africa and Morocco’s Euromed University achieved B grades for publishing jointly with industrial partners.
In teaching and learning, the University of Cairo and the University of Professional Studies in Accra had maximum scores for high graduation rates in bachelor degrees.
The Durban University of Technology, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Ibn Tofail University were each awarded a B grade in the same segment, while the University of Professional Studies in Accra, the German University in Cairo and Euromed University received B’s for graduating masters students on time.
The maximum points in the research category, in particular research publications, went to South African universities, namely, the universities of Cape Town, Rhodes, Stellenbosch, and the Witwatersrand.
The universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nile, Ibn Tofail and Zagazig were awarded B’s in the research category for the citation rate of their research publications.
In total, the represented African universities in U-Multirank 2022 are deemed to have performed well in regional engagement based on the criteria of output of regional joint publications and the number of their graduates working in a region where those universities are located. They are also doing well in providing internships to students in the regions where they are located.
Four Egyptian universities: Ain Shams University, Cairo University, German University in Cairo and Nile University, were joined by South Africa’s universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch in having top scores in regional joint publications.
Mohammed V University in Rabat, Ibn Tofail University, Strathmore University, Tunis University El Manar, Makerere University and the University of Professional Studies were also in the group.
Angola’s Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Sciences together with Nile University, the German University in Cairo and the Canadian International College, which is the Cairo campus of the Cape Breton University of Canada scored A’s for having most of their graduates with bachelor degrees working in their regions.
Individual university highlights showed that African universities perform well in bachelor degree graduation rates. For instance, the University of Professional Studies in Accra has a bachelor degree graduation rate of more than 97%, the German University in Cairo 90% and Durban University of Technology 71%.
Led by the University of Cape Town, South African universities were classified as being strong on research and international orientation categories based on international joint publications.
Nevertheless, African universities appeared to be performing dismally in the segment of patents awarded as only the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch were A scores.
But, unlike other university rankings, the U-Multirank system is based on the approach that there is no such thing as the best university in the world. “What’s best depends on who you are, what you want from your student experience, and even what you want from life,” states U-Multirank.
“Looking at the performance of universities, good teaching quality and research output is, of course, crucial, but we can’t neglect universities’ contribution to social goals,” says Professor Frank Ziegele, who is U-Multirank’s co-project leader.
Social inclusion criteria
In an attempt to fill that gap, U-Multirank, in the current rankings, introduced social inclusion criteria based on the enrolment of mature students into bachelor degrees, students with disabilities and students with non-academic backgrounds, or the first generation of students in their families to have access to university education.
The rankers also tried to quantify gender diversity in higher education by reporting on the percentage of female academic staff.
Although statistics were not available for most African universities, there were indicators that African universities are generally highly elitist in terms of admitting students from the traditionally under-represented groups and are battling to reduce the gender gap in the diversity of academic staff.
For instance, none of the African universities reported having more than 1.5% students with disabilities. At 1.4%, the Durban University Technology reported the highest number of students with disabilities within its student population, while the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s figure stands at 1.2%.
Morocco’s Euromed University and Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane and Angola’s Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Science had a student disability percentage of 0.3% while universities such as Strathmore University and the German University in Cairo were reported to have no students with disabilities.
Social inclusion criteria revealed that African universities had low enrolments of mature students in instances where universities had data. At 2.1%, Strathmore and Durban University of Technology had the highest number of mature students while the University of KwaZulu-Natal had 1.2%. The Canadian International College in Cairo and Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Science reported having no mature students.
In terms of students with a non-academic background, Durban University of Technology had the highest number at about 76% and 27% at the Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Science.
Although these statistics are not sufficient to make firm conclusions, there are indicators that new technical universities in Africa are attracting young students from population cohorts that had no background of higher education in the past.
There were also indicators that gender diversity among academic staff in African academia remained an issue as there were more men than women, with the exception of the Canadian International College where 65% of its academic staff are women and at the German University in Cairo where 55% of staffers are women.
Towards that objective, U-Multirank considers itself as an alternative approach to comparing universities and prepared to offer solutions to the flaws of traditional league tables.
Probably for the African universities, U-Multirank offers a window of opportunity whereby universities in the continent could strive to do their best for their students in the contexts in which they operate.