Looking for An “Innovative” College?

The college search is based on many criteria … or at least it should be. Do your criteria include “innovation”?

Let’s define our terms. What is innovation, as it applies to colleges? One media company, Thomson Reuters, defines it as “institutions doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and help drive the global economy.”

Accordingly, Reuters has just released its second annual ranking of the Reuters 100: The World’s Most Innovative Universities, with Stanford, MIT and Harvard topping the list.

What?! Not another rankings list!!!

Not so fast there …

Reuters says that unlike other rankings that often rely entirely or in part on subjective surveys, their ranking uses proprietary data and analysis tools from the Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters to examine a series of patent and research-related metrics, and get to the essence of what it means to be truly innovative.

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For example, some universities saw significant movement up the list, including, most notably, the University of Chicago, which jumped from #71 last year to #47 in 2016. Other list-climbers include the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology (#73 to #44) and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (#66 to #46). While others, like Carnegie Mellon, dropped out of the top 100.

Obviously, this is a global ranking, since it includes schools outside of the continental United States. Studying abroad has become much more popular in recent years. So, if you’re an adventurous type with specific requirements that involve technology and you’re not afraid to put yourself in a foreign culture, with all that that entails, you may want to dig deeper into this list.

Reuters says that in the fast-changing world of science and technology, if you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s list. The 2016 results show that big breakthroughs – even just one highly influential paper or patent – can drive a university way up the list, but when that discovery fades into the past, so does its ranking. Consistency is key, with truly innovative institutions putting out groundbreaking work year after year.

Taking a closer look at the current ranking list, compared to those in the past shows that Stanford maintained its first place ranking by consistently producing new patents and papers that influence researchers elsewhere in academia and in private industry. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ranked #2) were behind some of the most important innovations of the past century, including the development of digital computers and the completion of the Human Genome Project. Harvard University (ranked #3), is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and has produced 47 Nobel laureates over the course of its 380-year history.

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One may be puzzled by the absence or lower placement of other Ivy League institutions, which reveals how rankings can show us different views of the totality of higher education, much like looking at Mt. Everest from different angles. In some ways, rankings are not unlike political polls, which have bombarded our life these past months and are now reaching their peak of hysteria as we near the November election.

Getting back to the Reuters list, we can also note that some universities saw significant movement up the list, including, most notably, the University of Chicago, which jumped from #71 last year to #47 in 2016. Other list-climbers include the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology (#73 to #44) and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (#66 to #46).

The United States continues to dominate the list, with 46 universities in the top 100. Japan is once again the second-best performing country, with nine universities. France and South Korea are tied in third, each with eight. Germany has seven ranked universities; the United Kingdom has five; Switzerland, Belgium and Israel have three; Denmark, China and Canada have two; and the Netherlands and Singapore each have one.


To give you an idea of where your possible favorites rank (according to Reuters) among the world’s elite higher education institutions, here’s half of the Reuters list:

Reuters Top 50:

1 Stanford University
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
3 Harvard University
4 University of Texas System
5 University of Washington System
7 University of Michigan System
8 University of Pennsylvania
9 KU Leuven
10 Northwestern University
11 Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH)
12 Imperial College London
13 University of Wisconsin System
14 Duke University
15 University of California System
16 University of Tokyo
17 University of Southern California
18 Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
19 University of Cambridge
20 Vanderbilt University
21 Osaka University
22 University of Illinois System
23 Johns Hopkins University
24 Georgia Institute of Technology
25 Ohio State University
26 Cornell University
27 University of Oxford
28 California Institute of Technology
29 Kyoto University
30 Seoul National University
31 Tohoku University
32 Princeton University
33 Purdue University System
34 Tufts University
35 Oregon Health & Science University
36 University of North Carolina System
37 Indiana University System
38 Technical University of Munich
39 University of Pittsburgh
40 University of Utah
41 Boston University
42 Columbia University
43 Tokyo Institute of Technology
44 Delft University of Technology
45 University of Colorado System
46 Sungkyunkwan University
47 University of Chicago
48 Keio University
49 University of Erlangen Nuremberg
50 University of British Columbia


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Now, if you’re like me, you may want to see how these Reuters rankings compare to other, somewhat similar rankings. Take for example U.S. News. They have their Most Innovative Schools — National Universities rankings, focused on American schools. While the evaluation criteria aren’t exactly like those of Reuters, they are close enough to draw some comparisons. For example, their list is topped by Arizona State University-Tempe, followed by Stanford and MIT. Arizona State doesn’t appear in the Reuters Top 100.

So, back to my ongoing position on rankings:

Take them for what they’re worth — general signposts that can many times lead to a sensible college candidate and save you valuable time during your college search.

Check here for more on the Reuters Top 100, including a detailed methodology and profiles of the universities.


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.