In case you are interested in getting a world-class development studies degree – against the wishes of our leaders, it should be noted – then you cannot do better than Makerere if you are in Uganda.
The latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, released this month, place it at No. 36 in the world, well ahead of global luminaries like McGill University (49), Duke University (50), John Hopkins University (tied with Duke at 50), and Imperial College London (51-100).
Makerere has however declined compared to 2016, when it came in at number 30.
The University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom, is the world’s best specialist in development studies, up from No. 2 last year. Harvard University fell to second place, while the University of Oxford climbed to No.3 from No.4 in 2016. The University of Cambridge (No. 6 last year) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (No. 3 in 2016) round up the top five places.
In Africa, the University of Cape Town is the top ranked university for development studies (No. 10), followed by Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand at No. 18. Stellenbosch University, another South African university, is fourth at No. 42.
Still, there’s probably some top-level ambivalence about the university’s success in the subject. In 2014, President Museveni singled out development studies in a rant against “very useless” humanities courses, saying it should be taught as a unit in other courses. Museveni and the late Eriya Kategaya were not too happy when Mbarara University of Science and Technology introduced the degree.
The president believes Ugandan universities should prioritise life skills and science subjects to produce graduates who can solve the country’s challenges. Indeed, the government has over the years tweaked its policy to reflect this, making science subjects compulsory in O-Level in 2005 and prioritising science students for its university scholarships.
The QS World University subject rankings cover 42 subjects. They are based on QS’s surveys of academics and employers around the world, “which are used to assess institutions’ international reputation in each subject,” and two indicators that measure the research impact of universities.
Of the 42 subject areas, Makerere makes the top ranking in only four. It is ranked between No. 251 and No. 300 in agriculture and forestry; 351-400 in medicine, and 451-500 in life sciences and medicine.
Makerere was No. 762 in last year‘s QS rankings of the world’s top universities, and the 13th best in Africa. It was the only Ugandan university to make the list, which included 916 institutions.
It however, fared better in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, coming in at No. 446. The Times ranking placed it third in Africa, behind UCT and Wits.
The QS and Times Higher Education rankings are two of the three most respected global university rankings; the third ranking is the Academic Ranking of World Universities.