UCT ranked among the best varsities in the world despite existing leadership crisis

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The University of Cape Town (UCT) has retained its top spot on the continent in this year’s University Rankings despite being in the throes of a leadership and allegedly, racially driven, crisis.

The institution climbed 23 places and now sits in 160th place globally – up from 183rd place last year – in the University Rankings published by Times Higher Education yesterday.

The latest ranking means that in all five major international university rankings, UCT has been ranked the best in Africa.

This year, UCT also took the continent’s top place in the Centre for University Rankings, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Rankings and ShanghaiRanking’s Academic Ranking of Universities.

UCT is also Africa’s top university in the US and Report Best Global Universities Rankings, the most recent of which was issued in 2021. A new release is expected later this month.

“We are deeply proud of our academics and the wider UCT community for the hard and excellent work they do that has led to this result,” said UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng in a statement released by the university.

Phakeng also posted a video on her Twitter account of her dancing to the news of UCT’s latest rankings. She included the recently trending hashtag #HandsOffPhakeng following the recent attack on her leadership.

“UCT competes globally with institutions that have considerably more resources than we do, which makes this result all the more remarkable,” she said.

This year, Times Higher Education University Rankings assessed 1 799 institutions across 13 performance indicators in five areas: citations (30%), research (30%), teaching (30%), international outlook (7.5%) and industry income (2.5%).

According to UCT, its strongest performance was in citations – or research influence – which measures the number of times a piece of research is cited. In this area, the university ranked 172nd globally.

In the area of research – its volume, income and reputation – UCT also ranked in the top 200 globally. The university’s performance improved for two indicators: the research reputation survey and the ratio of papers to academic staff. The former demonstrates UCT’s growing positive reputation among leading international academics.

UCT’s scores increased in four of the five indicators for teaching (the learning environment): the teaching reputation survey, the ratio for doctorate degrees awarded to academic staff, the ratio of students to academic staff and the ratio of institutional income to academic staff.

UCT’s score in the fifth indicator – ratio of doctorates to bachelors degrees awarded – dropped only slightly, by 0.1 points.

“It is gratifying to see UCT’s reputation in both research and in teaching and learning grow, which is recognition of the important role African institutions are playing in the global knowledge project as institutions the world over address the grand challenges,” added Phakeng.

UCT has made headlines recently after the Daily Maverick broke the story on leadership struggles within its council after the early departure of deputy vice-chancellor, associate professor Lis Lange.

Last week, the chair of UCT’s council, Babalwa Ngonyama, announced an internal investigation into governance concerns at the institution, including issues related to Lange’s departure.

Both Phakeng and Ngonyama have come under fire in the media following claims that they had misled the council about the departure of Lange. A letter written by Lange accused the two of misleading the council.

However, this attack on the leadership has been widely criticised for being “a clear demonstration of anti-transformation and reform par excellence”.

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