African varsities fare poorly in new ranking By TREVOR ANALO | Friday, October 4  2013 at  15:07

A snapshot of The World University Rankings web page. 

Only three African universities--all South African--made it into a new ranking of the world's top 400 education institutions.

The University of Cape Town was the only African institution ranked in the top 200 at position 126th, down from 113th last year, in the Times Higher Education (THE) world university ranking released Wednesday.

The University of Witwatersrand sealed its place in the 226th-250th group, while the University of Stellenbosch slipped from the 251st-275th group to the 301st and 350th position.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal, which made its debut in the top 400 club last year, was edged out this year.

Data from 715 universities on core areas like teaching, research and knowledge transfer was collected and analysed by Thompson Reuters, and the results published by British magazine Times Higher Education.

The US and the UK took all the slots in the top 10, with seven going to the former and three to the latter.

The California Institute of Technology sealed its place at the head of the world’s elite universities for the third year running since the rankings’ first edition in 2011.

Harvard University and the University of Oxford shared the second place, while Stanford University at the third place, followed with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University in the fourth and fifth slots respectively.

Max Price, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, argued in a recent article in Times Higher Education that "developing countries cannot afford merely to occupy a point on a technological trajectory where it will take a decade or two to catch up with the rest of the world."

Assumption

He says that African institutions perform poorly in global rankings because of a long-standing assumption that the production of knowledge "to answer blue-sky research questions” in for example, particle physics or astronomy is a preserve of the North".

"If a country cannot integrate reasonably competitively into global systems of trade, finance, communications and data, production, quality assurance and global markets, it cannot develop."

Price argued that Africa needs globally competitive research universities to help drive sustain its economic and political development and promote its interests globally.

"If a developing country is not independently competent to advocate its position in global policy debates - whether these concern sustainability, world trade, legal systems, international relations, marine and mineral resource extraction or countless other arenas - it will not be able to protect and promote its interests."

He calls for the transformation of African research institutions from "being merely consumers of others' innovations and ideas but being explorers and shapers of the future".