Davos 2018: top universities ‘boost innovation more than nations’

THE data analysis in partnership with Elsevier highlights economic impact of world’s leading institutions 

January 25, 2018
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A small group of fewer than 30 universities are having a bigger impact on the inventions driving global economic growth than the world’s major industrialised nations, a data analysis by Times Higher Education suggests.

The analysis of patent-citation statistics, carried out in partnership with Elsevier and presented at this week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, shows the huge influence of a handful of academic institutions on global innovation.

For the analysis, Elsevier looked at how often research by 27 universities that are members of the WEF’s Global University Leaders Forum (GULF) was cited in patents.

It shows that GULF institutions – most of which are in the top 50 of the THE World University Rankings 2018 – have a higher patent-citation per publication rate than countries such as the US, UK or Germany.

The group was also responsible for a larger share (7 per cent) of all published research indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus bibliographic database than the UK (6.4 per cent) and Germany (6.1 per cent) from 2012 to 2016.

Other data on research co-authored between GULF universities and companies reveal that such collaborations yielded almost 45,000 publications over the period. Close to a third of these outputs involved 20 firms, a list dominated by technology and pharmaceutical multinationals such as Microsoft and GlaxoSmithKline.

Meanwhile, statistics from THE’s rankings show that the GULF draws in more than 11 per cent of all the research income generated by ranked universities despite making up less than 2.5 per cent of the list.

Despite the data showing clear evidence of the economic impact of the group, the figures may raise concerns about the influence of such a small number of higher education institutions and companies on global innovation.

Adam Stoten, chief operating officer at Oxford University Innovation, which manages the University of Oxford’s technology transfer activity, said that major companies were inevitably attracted towards working with institutions with a large breadth of excellent research.

But he added that was “not to say that the smaller universities don’t have some world-class, commercially relevant research activities, and companies will seek those out”.

“There are many of the smaller UK universities that may not have the [same] breadth of research…but have some very productive, long-term, strategic relationships with corporate partners around a particularly specific area of science.”

Nick Jennings, vice-provost for research and enterprise at Imperial College London, whose president Alice Gast is currently co-chair of the GULF group, said that the “challenge” for institutions such as Imperial was to broaden industry-academia links beyond the “established industries that have always worked with universities”.

Forming relationships with new companies means that “you have to go through some pain at the beginning to understand what everyone is after” but it was important to reach out to the sectors “that perhaps have just not engaged much” with academia.


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