Makerere slips in global ranking of top universities

Uganda’s flagship university, Makerere, has fallen five places in the latest ranking of the world’s top universities released today.

Makerere is 762 in the 2016 rankings compiled by higher education research firm QS.  It was 753 last year.

Of the over 3800 universities considered for the ranking, only 916 were included. Makerere is the only Ugandan university in the ranking, whose top three universities – MIT, Stanford, and Harvard – are all American Universities.

Even then, Makerere had a relatively stellar showing in a subject ranking released by the same firm in March. It was ranked 30 in the development studies subject category, which is topped by the USA’s Harvard University. The subject rankings are based on academic reputation, employer reputation, and research impact .

The QS rankings are one of the three most respected global university rankings; the other two are the Academic Ranking of World Universities and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. They are based on six performance indicators:student-to-faculty ratio (20%), citations per faculty (20%), international faculty ratio (5%), and international student ratio (5%), academic reputation (40%), and employer reputation (10%).

Compared to the top ranked university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Makerere is an extra-large university with over 30,000 students to MIT’s 11,067 students, which makes it a medium-sized school. Makerere’s research intensity, based on the number of research paper’s output relative to the institutions size, is medium to MIT’s very high. Makerere’s student-to-faculty ratio is 32,224:911 versus MIT’s 11,067:4,661. International students make up 33.58% of MIT’s student’s body to Makerere’s 9.24%.

Makerere is the 13th top university in Africa, according to the ranking. The five top universities are from South Africa (three) and Egypt (two). Kenya’s top ranked university, the University of Nairobi, is 16th.

It was the third best African university in the development studies subject category, after South Africa’s University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand.

QS said the key differentiating factor between countries whose universities rose this year – South Korea, Russia, the USA, and China – and those that fell -Western and Southern Europe, South Africa, and Latin America – was investment in higher education from both private and public sources.

“Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding, whether from endowments or from the public purse, are rising. On the other hand, some Western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their US and Asian counterparts,” a QS official said.

American universities held all top three spots for the first time since 2004. The UK’s Cambridge has dropped out of the top three since the rankings were first released 12 years ago, taking the number four spot. Russia and South Korea had more universities in the top 500, while China’s Tsinghua rose to its highest-ever position (24).

Makerere was recently forced to postpone re-opening for a new academic year following a sit-down strike by non-teaching staff for higher pay. The striking workers said government had reneged on a promise to increase their pay in the new financial year. The university’s financial troubles are not restricted to non-teaching staff, however: it has had to negotiate with faculty this year to continue teaching after their salaries were delayed, sometimes by several months.

In April, the university’s vice chancellor asked government to take over its entire wage bill because of the unrest delays in meeting financial obligations to its staff usually leads to, and the disruption to the academic programme that usually follows. The university pays 40% of its faculty’s salary and government pays the rest.

Even then, the university is well-regarded on the continent. A recent analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence named Uganda among African countries that have the potential to catch up with the continent’s largest economies on account of their strong strategic advantages. Uganda’s advantage was its ‘potent’ human resources.

“Makerere University is one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s highest-ranking centers of higher education outside of South Africa,” the analysis said. “A well-educated, English-speaking population could also open the way for business-process outsourcing. New submarine cables are making internet speeds in neighboring Kenya the fastest in Africa.”