TUT rose to the ninth best university in South Africa, standing its ground among the traditional world-class Stellenbosch and Cape Town universities, which also improved in the 2019 rankings.
TUT’s rise in the world university rankings must be celebrated for several reasons. Only fourteen years into its existence, this young institution now ranks among the top 1 000 universities globally, it is ranked #9 among the top 10 universities in South Africa and it remains the number one university of technology in South Africa and Africa.
TUT’s Faculty of Science (Physical Sciences category) also saw itself ranked among word-renowned universities such as Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. It took position 301 out of 400 in the world, while it was also ranked 251 out of 300 in the 2019 THE Engineering & Technology subject rankings.
Prof Stanley Mukhola, Deputy Vice Chancellor - Teaching, Learning and Technology at TUT provided more context around TUT and explained the importance of the University’s ranking in THE Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
History & Vision
The history of TUT is important to its new position on the global stage. Coinciding with the advent of The World University Rankings, TUT was established in 2004, when the former Technikon Northern Gauteng, Technikon North-West and Technikon Pretoria merged. With an annual enrollment figure of more than 60 000 students, TUT is widely regarded as a "mega university" and it is the largest residential higher education institution in South Africa. The University is one of the most demographically diverse in terms of race and gender in the country, reflecting the post-Apartheid South African society.
Almost 30% of academic staff have doctorate degrees.
TUT regards itself as a people’s university, catering not only for advantaged students, but also for young people with academic potential from poorer communities countrywide. The University’s popularity is reflected by the fact that it annually receives on average 100 000 applications from new students, applying for the 15 000 spaces available for first-years. The majority of these students have good APS scores, which qualify them for admission to TUT’s seven faculties.
In line with its powerful slogan, We Empower People, TUT strives to empower its students for a better future. Although the University does not have a medical school, its Faculty of Science (ranked 301 out of 400 globally) offers a variety of health related courses, designed to address the needs of the community and industry. The subject content of every qualification is guided by an Advisory Committee, consisting of leading professionals from industry, and is presented by enthusiastic and proficient staff. As with all other programmes within the faculty, degrees can be obtained in the fields of Sport and Physical Rehabilitation Sciences, Environmental Health, Biomedical Sciences, Dental Sciences, Nursing and Pharmacy.
Internationally, the new mission and vision of African universities is to become research-intensive and world-class universities. These African universities have chosen to pursue the path of internalisation and massification, among others.
TUT’s local mission is to empower its students and scholars. Although it pursues the path of massification, at undergraduate student uptake level the focus is currently not so much on internalisation. It has opted to rather purse stronger partnerships with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and other international universities across the world to improve its teaching, research and learning.
In the last five years, the University has been the highest receiver of Teaching Development Grants and the second highest receiver of the Department of Higher Education’s Research Development Grants. The grants played an important role in improving TUT’s income indicator in the rankings.
Despite its challenges, such as infrastructural inequalities among its campuses and recurring student protest action, it was good news to see the University rise in THE Global University Rankings.
Positions in the 2019 THES Rankings
The Times Higher Education World Rankings, and similar rankings, are heavily weighted on research. Teaching, which “assesses the learning environment”, accounts for only 30% of a university’s overall ranking.
When THE World University Rankings released its first rankings in 2004, African universities performed poorly. This gave rise to the perception that African universities were not living up to expectations, compared to their peers abroad. That caused African universities to change their mission and vision and also to develop and adopt strategic plans, which will enable them to gain world-class university status.
Therefore, they invested more effort into research and to publish in international journals, whilst encouraging postgraduate students, especially at master’s level to participate.
Although TUT has not appeared in the top 1 000 range of best universities in the global universities ranking previously, this has changed in the 2019 THES rankings. The University was ranked in the 800 – 1000 range, overtaking several global universities, including the University of South Africa (another well-established traditional South African university).
On the set of indicators considered in the THES ranking, TUT improved in citations, industry income and international outlook. Although it fell short on improving on the Teaching and Research Indicators of the THES rankings, it is a challenge that TUT will address. TUT is currently the highest recipient of government teaching grants.
Although the rankings are far from perfect, policymakers and the media evaluate universities according to their rankings, while university leaders use these rankings as a benchmark in their strategic plans. To sustain its position in the ranking, the University should continuously improve on its teaching and overall research outputs.
In conclusion, Prof Mukhola said that, despite the widely held view that it will take years for the relatively young universities of technology to catch up with the old, traditional universities, the rise of TUT in the Global rankings gives hope to these universities of technology.
Alluding to TUT’s mission, he emphasised the importance of broadening its focus to become more prominent internationally. Prof Mukhola added that the rise in 2019 THES rankings was a wake-up call for the University. To achieve world- class status, it must be mindful of the factors that universities need to shift towards to achieve that. These factors included aligning itself properly with Globalization and Knowledge based-competition; the dynamics and politics of The World University Rankings; the definition and type of research the University must undertake to become world-class as well as to keep on strengthening and improving its position in the global rankings.
Overall, the results of the 2019 THES Ranking is a good start for TUT and it will work towards sustaining and improving in the rankings.