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Ranking of world´s universities and their output

Why we need more and better innovations

Countries in emerging markets are producing products and services much cheaper than in the West. To compete with them the Western economies have to maintain a leading edge in technology. But unfortunately the emerging markets countries have closed many technology gaps during the past 10 years. There is global competition in areas unthinkable 10 years ago. More competition means lower margins, requiring productivity increases and cost cuttings. To create new jobs and we ultimately need more and better innovations. Recently our innovations were not big enough and not fast enough. We have consumed too much but not invented enough. We need the next technological quantum step.

We have reached the bottom of the wave of Kondratjeff wave cycles[i],[ii] and wait for somebody to invent to next product generation which would have a magic impact to revitalize our economy. Cost saving strategies in the style of anglo-saxon investment banking and private equity may help individual businesses, but macro-economically it would only lead us further and deeper into depression.

As a result, we live in a time of economical stagnation. The world needs the next generation of significant innovations. Marginal innovations won´t be good enough any longer to compete in a globalised marketplace. Having said that, we are thinking of new products and technologies with an impact in the order of magnitude of the internet or mobile phones.

To achieve this target, highest education standards in science and technology in our universities and colleges are vital for the ability to compete in the long run.

Ranking of the world´s best universities

Doctor´s hat of graduated student at university In our recent report “ CRAMS outsourcing in pharmaceutical and chemical research and manufacturing” we already covered rankings of the world´s education systems and their top universities in the context of education systems and the trend of offshore outsourcing[iii].

Who and where are the world´s best universities ?  Since 2004, the QS World University Rankings® have been conducted to present a multi-faceted view of the relative strengths of the world’s leading universities.

The ranking of the world´s top universities[iv], tech schools ranking[v] and individual subject rankings[vi] are available online on the QS website. We have summarized the results for some subjects of particular relevance for product innovations in the following table

subject Rank 1 Rank 2 Rank 3
physics and astronomy[vii] MIT (USA) Harvard (USA) Stanford (USA)
chemistry[viii] MIT (USA) Berkeley (USA) Harvard (USA)
mathematics[ix] MIT (USA) Harvard (USA) Stanford (USA)
biological sciences[x] Harvard (USA) MIT (USA) Cambridge (UK)
environmental sciences[xi] Stanford (USA) Berkeley (USA) Harvard (USA)
material sciences[xii] MIT (USA) Stanford (USA) Cambridge (UK)
chemical engineering[xiii] MIT (USA) Berkeley (USA) Cambridge (UK)
electrical engineering[xiv] MIT (USA) Stanford (USA) Berkeley (USA)
mechanical engineering[xv] MIT (USA) Stanford (USA) Cambridge (UK)

The QS ranking assessment is based on a methodology of surveys, in which academics worldwide have participated. Academics had been asked to identify the universities that were producing the best research in their field of expertise. The 2012 survey is based on tens of thousands of responses, aggregated over three years.

They are based on data covering four key areas of concern for students: research, employability, teaching and internationalization.

The rankings are compiled using the following six indicators[xvi] :

1.    Academic reputation (40%)

2.    Employer reputation (10%)

3.    Faculty/student ratio (20%)

4.    Citations per faculty (20%)

5.    International faculty ratio (5%) and international student ratio (5%)

6.    Additional information: reputational rankings by faculty area

The research currently considers over 2,000 universities, and ranks over 700. The top 400 are ranked individually, whereas those placed 401 and over are ranked in groups.

In most of the technical fields which are relevant for product innovations universities in the US and UK ranked highest, according to this survey. But notably many Asian universities have improved in their rankings.

freshly graduated from universityAnother study by the University of Melbourne published in May 2012 covering the ranking the world´s higher education systems came to a similar result. Also here US universities ranked highest[xvii]. The study was based on resources, environment, connectivity and output. Again this result was mainly due to the highest output of research measured by the number of publications and their impact, in all other aspects the US was not ranked first.

Due to the nature of these surveys it is obvious that more focus was on the quality of research and the number of publications rather than the quality of the education system. World class research by word class professors producing the highest numbers of publications does not necessarily mean a world class quality of education, especially since a high share of the output is actually contributed by foreign professors and foreign graduate students and who have not been educated by the American education system.

But surely the result of these surveys can be taken as a good indicator for the ability of the universities to produce excellent research in the first place.

Step Change Innovations from university research

The significance of the educations system lies not only in the continuous supply of qualified scientists and engineers as workforce for the industry who then invents products and commercializes them. The universities are incubation cells for inventions itself. Products that came from university research enrich our daily lives. From the Internet to chemotherapy drugs, many amazing innovations were the products of professors and their students working at universities around the world. Some of these innovations have truly changed the world, others have saved lives, but all have had a significant impact on life throughout the past decades.

Onlineuniversities.com has complied the top 100 innovations from university research[xviii]. This illustrates many of the step change innovations from academic researchers all over the world.

100 Important Innovations than came from university research

Besides universities research is also taking place in special research centers who deliver substantial output. Some of the world´s most cutting-edge research centers are compiled here[xix].

The list of successful innovations out of university labs and specialized research centers is very impressive and underlines that ongoing support for our universities is vital for our ability to create future technological innovations.



[ii] http://kondratieffwinter.com/blog/tag/kondratieff-wave/

[iv] QS, TopUniversities, http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings

[vi] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings

[vii] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/natural-sciences/physics

[viii] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/natural-sciences/chemistry

[ix] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/natural-sciences/mathematics

[x] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/life-science-biomedicine/biological-science

[xi] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/natural-sciences/environmental-sciences

[xii] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/natural-sciences/materials-science

[xiii] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/technology/chemical-engineering

[xiv] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/technology/electrical-engineering

[xv] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012/subject-rankings/technology/mechanical-engineering

[xvi] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/methodology-simple-overview-qs-world-university-rankin

[xvii] U21 Rankings of National Higher Education Systems

Christian Schumacher

Dr. Christian Schumacher is the founder and managing director of StepChange Innovations GmbH, a technology development and consulting firm based in Germany. He has more than 20 years of experience in the chemical industry with global players such as Hoechst AG and DyStar Textilfarben GmbH as head of R&D, senior regional business manager Asia Pacific, head of e-commerce, head of marketing services, new product development manager and R&D chemist.

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