The Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 has recorded five South African universities in the top 500 in the global rankings, despite many challenges that have dogged the higher education sector over the past few years.
The universities are the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University' the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Also ranked highly in the top 800 universities in the world were the University of Pretoria, North West University and University of South Africa.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 should be celebrated as a significant national achievement.
"Bearing in mind that the Academic Ranking of World Universities is one of the most respected global ranking systems, this strong performance and continuing solid progress by our institutions of higher education is without doubt a cause for national celebration.
"This is more so given the many challenges that the higher education sector continues to grapple with, many of them inherited from the pre-democracy era, including those related to access, transformation and funding," Minister Nzimande said.
Minister Nzimande said it was also noteworthy that the high ranking of South Africa's public universities was happening as the latest statistics showed that more than two-thirds of the students studying at the country's higher education institutions were Black Africans.
"It is very pleasing that despite our country's difficult past, as well as the many challenges that continue to affect South Africa's higher education sector, commendable transformation is also taking place at our institutions of higher learning, with more students from disadvantaged backgrounds now accessing higher education," he said.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme
The Minister also noted that the strong performance by local universities was coming at a time that the government's financial support for the higher education and training sector, via the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) student funding system had risen by more than 600% for universities and a massive 900% for further education and training colleges in the past 10 years.
Official spending figures from the Department of Higher Education and Training show that total outlays via NSFAS in support of students at universities and colleges from poor and lower income families grew 12-fold from just over R1.7 billion in 2007 to R22.31 billion this financial year.
"These figures bears testimony that post-school education and training has been and continues to be an absolute focus and priority of this government," the Minister said.
According to the StatsSA data, about 766 812 students were enrolled at higher education institutions during 2016 and more than two-thirds (66.4%) of these students were Black Africans.