Should you go to an innovative university?

Jun 2024

9 Minute Read

Tagged as: Applying to Elite Universities, Choosing a School/Program

This article discusses the US News and World Report "World's Most Innovative Universities" rankings

We have talked about the most well-known list in the US in detail on the blog: the US News and World Report "Best Colleges" list. This independent news magazine’s list is one of many resources. In this article, we will be taking an in-depth look at a newer list from Reuters: the "Top 100: World’s Most Innovative Universities" ranking. This list uses much different criteria, and depending on what your student’s goals are, it could be much more useful.

On the blog, one of our goals is to help families research the colleges that will be the best fit for their students. Because each student has different needs and goals for their degree, some information you find may be more useful to someone else.

Brief overview

Reuters published the first iteration of this list in 2015. Unlike many of the lists you may be aware of, this list also examines universities outside of Europe and North America.

Another important detail of this list is specific to US universities. You may be familiar with some well-known state universities, such as the University of California—Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. While these individual institutions are ranked on their own in some lists, Reuters groups these state schools together as a system.

This list allows us to look beyond the US and the UK, as well as to discover other institutions in these places you would otherwise not know about. However, it is still an excellent tool for those of you looking exclusively in these areas.


Reuters researchers start by compiling around 600 institutions around the world that produce the most significant amount of influential research. From here, they narrow the list down by using the following criteria:

  • Industry Article Citation Impact. An article is considered to be more influential if commercial or scientific industry utilizes it. Because articles are cited by other academics all the time, limiting this criterion to industry hits is a more reliable way to judge what sort of impact research has on innovation.
  • Percent of Industry Collaborative Articles. This indicator measures the percentage of all articles that contain one or more co-authors from a commercial entity. By measuring the amount of research activity conducted in collaboration with industry, it becomes easier to see the potential economic and social impact that said research might have.
  • Total Web of Science Core Collection Papers. This is the total number of peer-reviewed journal articles published by the institution. Because this is a size-dependent measure, larger institutions have an edge for this indicator.
  • Patent Volume. The number of patents filed. Patents are an indication that a particular organization's research output has value outside of academia. Only those patents that are registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are counted for this criterion—not country-specific patents.
  • Global Patents. The percentage of patents that sought coverage with the U.S., European and Japanese patent offices. Because filing an international patent is an intensive process, filing in multiple regions indicates that the invention is considered to have value.
  • Patent Citations. The total number of times a patent has been cited by other patents, which indicates that a patent has had an impact on industry.
  • Patent Citation Impact and Percent of Patents Cited. How much impact a patent has had, and the proportion of patents that have been cited by other patents one or more times, respectively.
  • Patent to Article Citation Impact. The average number of times a journal article has been cited by patents, which tells us both the academic and economic potential of a particular innovation.

As you can see by the criteria, one clear drawback to this list is that this is clearly a science and engineering-forward ranking. But considering that science and engineering fields are more frequently requiring humanities components, this list can still be useful for students who want to look into interdisciplinary research.

Reuters makes an essential point about the shortcomings of their list:

"...the relative ranking of any university – or whether it appears on the list at all – does not provide a complete picture of whether its researchers are doing important, innovative work. Since the ranking measures innovation on an institutional level, it may overlook particularly innovative departments or programs: a university might rank low for overall innovation but still operate one of the world’s best theoretical physics departments, for instance. And it’s important to remember that whether a university ranks at the top or the bottom of the list, it’s still within the top 100 on the planet. All of these universities produce original research, create useful technology and stimulate the global economy." (Reuters)

In sum…

If your student is interested in any scientific or technological field, this list is well worth your time. However, even if that is not the case, many of these institutions boast world-renowned humanities, social science, arts, and mathematics departments.

To explore our database of universities and keep track of important admissions deadlines, download Occam's free app, Wend, on the App Store today!

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