Top 10 universities for producing Nobel prizewinners 2016

Times Higher Education analysis reveals the institutions with the most affiliated Nobel prizewinners this century

October 17, 2016
Princeton University
Source: iStock

Princeton University has topped a list of institutions with the most Nobel laureates this century, while the US dominates a top 10 based on the nationality of the winners.

The Ivy League institution overtakes Stanford University, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, after the announcements of this year’s prizes to reach the summit of the table, which is dominated by US universities and was drawn up by Times Higher Education.

Harvard University joins the top 10 in eighth place, up from 11th last year, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology climbs three places to fifth.

The Technion Israel Institute of Technology is the only university outside the US to make the top 10, in 10th place (down from joint eighth), after Germany’s Max Planck Society slipped one place to 11th.

No UK universities feature in the top 10; the country’s top representatives are the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge in joint 14th place, the same positions as last year, with each institution achieving a tally of one Nobel prize this century.

The University of Oxford is conspicuous by its absence, having not been affiliated with any Nobel prizewinners this century.

The top 10 list of institutions, covering Nobel prizes awarded from 2000 to 2016, was produced by giving each university a score based on the number of winners affiliated with the institution at the time their award was granted.

The score was then weighted based on the number of prizewinners for the category and the number of institutions affiliated with each award winner. Literature and peace prizewinners were excluded from the analysis.

Affiliation of Nobel prizewinners, 2000-2016

2016 rank  2015 rank Position in THE World University Rankings 2016-2017 Institution Country Score
1 =4 7 Princeton University US 3.25
2 1 3 Stanford University  US 3.16
3 2 16 Columbia University US 2.5
4 3 =10 University of California, Berkeley  US 2.25
5 =8 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology  US 2.17
6 =4 =10 University of Chicago  US 2
7 6 Not ranked  Howard Hughes Medical Institute  US 1.94
8 11 6 Harvard University  US 1.78
9 7 48 University of California, Santa Barbara  US 1.74
10 =8 301-350 Technion Israel Institute of Technology  Israel 1.66

The US tops a separate table based on the nationality of Nobel prizewinners this century – also produced using a weighted score according to how many winners there were for each prize.

However, its dominance is waning; last year it accounted for 49 per cent of winners, but this has dropped to 45 per cent – or 72 of the 159 laureates – this year.

Meanwhile, the UK and Japan, which remain in second and third place, have upped their total and are now affiliated with 10 per cent (or 16) and 9 per cent (15) of winners, respectively.

Awards by country, 2000-2016

2016 rank 2015 Rank Country Score  Overall number of Nobel prizes
1 1 US 30.2 72
2 2 UK 8.8 16
3 3 Japan 5.8 15
4 4 Germany 3.4 7
5 5 Israel 2.5 5
6 =6 France 2.3 5
7 =6 Russia 2 5
=8 8 Australia 1.3 3
=8 11 Canada 1.3 3
10 9 Norway 1 3

Phil Baty, THE rankings editor, said that the celebration of universities that have been “able to foster the appropriately creative and risk-taking environment that nurtures excellence in research and produces seismic results” also “comes with a warning”.

“Increasingly, the demand from governments that fund university research is for clear, short-term outcomes, with obvious and immediate applications, and the demand from university administrators is for a steady stream of research publications,” he said.

“This, of course, has its role, but it is not how the very best science works – to make truly groundbreaking discoveries, scientists need to be given the freedom to follow their noses, to engage in so-called curiosity-driven research, often with no obvious sense of where the research may ultimately lead.

“They should be driven simply by the desire to push the boundaries of our knowledge. They must be free to take risks and, of course, sometimes to fail.

“In today’s tighter, tougher climate, it seems clear that much of the work that has won Nobel prizes over the years might not have taken place – it would have been deemed too risky, or to esoteric, or to be taking too long,” he added.

Last month, Saul Perlmutter, physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, told the THE World Academic Summit that he would not have been able to make his prizewinning discovery in today’s research funding environment.

Mr Baty added that in the UK, the US and Switzerland there are “moves to place restrictions on the free movement of talent” that could “harm global science”.

“The Nobels show clearly that world-class science is truly global, with international teams bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to shared global challenges,” he said.

“It is time for a serious policy debate around how we promote excellent science globally.”

The debate over the role, and the economic and social impacts, of curiosity-driven research will be the centrepiece of THE's inaugural Innovation and Impact Summit at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University from 31 May to 2 June 2017.

The event will explore the delicate balance between short-term and long-term impact and will bring together world-class academics and leaders from the private sector.

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