University rankings and their significance for South Africa will be the subject of a high-level discussion among top academics this week.

The roundtable discussion, titled University Rankings: Helpful or Harmful, will be hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). It will be the first of a series of Presidential Roundtables moderated by ASSAf President, Prof Jonathan Jansen. The discussions focus on thought-provoking and sometimes controversial issues facing the academic and higher education community in the country.

University rankings provide insights into how universities compare globally. They place a major emphasis on research productivity and impact, the ability to attract research grants, the quality of staffing, internationalisation and perceptions of the quality of graduates by the international community. 

Global university rankings are sometimes controversial as they are deemed to be designed for the developed world and they often draw criticism for potentially leading to behaviours and the redesign of strategy to improve on rankings, rather than doing what is best for the local South African situation.

Questions interrogating the place (if any) of global university rankings in the South African context, whether they lead to unethical behavior/practices, whether they are biased towards science and technology to the neglect of the humanities, and whether they give a skewed picture of excellence at universities will be probed during the roundtable discussion.

The discussion will be held at The Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), RW Wilcocks Building, Stellenbosch Central, Stellenbosch from 17:00 to 19:00 on 7 February 2018.

Panel members at the roundtable are:

Prof Dr Robert Tijssen who holds the Chair of Science and Innovation Studies at Leiden University. He leads the Science, Technology and Innovation (STIS) research programme at Centrum voor Wetenschap en Technologische Studies (CWTS).


Prof Nico Cloete who is the Director of the Centre for Higher Education Trust (CHET) and Coordinator of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA).


Prof Lis Lange is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning at the University of Cape Town.
Prof Zeblon Vilakazi who is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at the University of Witwatersrand and member if the ASSAf Council.