The University of the Witwatersrand has made it into the top 200 in the World University Rankings 2016-17 for the first time, joining the University of Cape Town (UCT), according to Times Higher Education. In the 2015-16 rankings, Wits was in the 201-250 band, But in the 2016-17 rankings it made it to number 182. UCT was ranked 148 for 2016-17.

The University of Johannesburg and the University of the Western Cape made their debut on the list, both landing in the 601-800 band. South Africa had eight universities on the list, which is published by Times Higher Education.

This comes as students forced the shutdown of campuses around the country this week following the announcement by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on fee increases for 2017. Nzimande said the government would cap the 2017 fee increases at 8%. The state would also cover the gap between the 2015 fees and adjusted 2017 fees for students from households with an income of up to R600,000 a year, and for those who were funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

Classes were suspended at various universities on Tuesday after running battles between students, and police and security personnel, with a number of arrests and injuries reported. Universities affected were Wits, UCT, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University and the University of the Free State.

Phil Baty, the editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said four South African universities had lost ground since the previous ranking. This was because of lower scores for reputation. "With rising inflation in the country, coupled with tuition fee increases being cancelled following nationwide protests, university budgets are at breaking point," Baty said. "SA will need to work hard at investing in its universities as global competition heats up if it wants to achieve the same ambitious task."

In the World University Rankings 2016-17, Stellenbosch University dropped from the 301-305 band in 2015-16 to 401-500. The University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Pretoria dropped from the 401-500 band to 501-600 and 501-600 to 601-800, respectively. The University of SA moved from the 601-800 band in 2015-16 to 801+ in 2016-17.

Baty said the expanded rankings list showed how competitive global higher education had become. The top 980 universities came from 79 different countries. The new number one university, for the first time in six years, was the University of Oxford in the UK, kicking the California Institute of Technology to number two. The US lost the top spot for the first time in 12 years, said Baty.

© BDlive 2016