World University Rankings 2018: top performers in our industry income pillar

Collaborating with industry provides universities with funding but also insight into real-world problems and solutions, says Christiaan van der Merwe

September 5, 2017
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Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2018


Universities often seek to supplement their coffers by finding ways to access private-sector funds, such as by setting up technology transfer offices and trying to commercialise their research.

In the developing world, where research budgets are especially tight, universities are especially eager to knock at industry doors in search of collaborations.

This line of thinking has led to a notion that universities must have a “one or the other mindset” when it comes to applied and fundamental research.

Not so, insists the research head of one of the top performers for industry income in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Belgium’s KU Leuven.

“One reinforces the other; the boundaries are always blurred,” says Koenraad Debackere, executive director of KU Leuven Research & Development, the institution’s technology transfer office.

He says that many KU Leuven researchers had become interested in branching out into fundamental research after cutting their teeth in applied research, a process he calls “cognitive spillover”.

Debackere says that more than half the university’s 1,600 professors have some link to industry, which stems from KU Leuven’s early emphasis on the value of industry alliances. The university established a dedicated unit for technology transfer almost five decades ago; the unit since morphed into KU Leuven Research & Development, and researchers “grew up with it”, Debackere adds.

The industry income pillar – which assesses universities simply based on how much income they attract from industry, scaled for the size of the institution – suggests that location does help universities to forge links with the private sector.

South Korea, with its many global high-tech companies such as Samsung and LG and its prominent spending on research and development, does well in the pillar. The country has five universities in the top 50, with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) securing a joint top spot.

KAIST’s strong “research competence” and research integrity helps it to attract industry partners, says Heekyung Park, the institution’s vice-president of research, while the benefits of industry collaboration filter down to other research activities.

Park believes that working closely with industry has led students and researchers at KAIST to be more cognisant of commercialisation and the needs of industry. Particularly helpful, he adds, is their ability to “understand real-world problems”.

While German universities have continued their dominance in the industry income pillar, boasting three of the 10 joint first positions in the table and a total of nine places in the top 50, other areas of the world have been increasing their presence.

The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have suffered in the overall standings of the World University Rankings, in part because of an increased number of participants.

But the bloc of developing nations fared better in the industry income pillar, with several highly placed universities competing with more established institutions of the developed world. Brazil’s Federal University of Itajubá and China’s Peking University are in the group at the top. The University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in Russia are both in joint 11th place behind the leading group.

Each of the BRICS countries is represented in the top 50. China has the most representatives in the bloc, nine universities, while India has just one: the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur at joint 49th.

Turkey performed well, too. Istanbul Technical University was among the first placed, while Akdeniz University is at joint 20th.

The US’ Duke University is in joint first place, but otherwise the country’s representation in the top 50 is less dominant than in the World University Rankings. Meanwhile, no university in the UK could break into the top 50.

The Netherlands performed strongly in the industry income pillar, with two universities in the group of joint leaders.

One of these is Eindhoven University of Technology, which was established in 1956 and has been linked to industry ever since its inception.

“Companies such as [automobile manufacturer] DAF, [electronics giant] Philips and [life sciences company] DSM were established in this region,” says Jan Mengelers, its board chairman.

The other Netherlands-based institution in joint first place, Wageningen University & Research, has focused its research on specific thematic areas.

“Our researchers understand the issues the agrifood industry and the NGOs in the field are dealing with,” says Simon Vink, a university spokesman.

He says that while Wageningen is “truly academic”, its scholars work with industry when setting the research agenda, which makes businesses keener to collaborate.

A benefit of Wageningen’s industry links, according to Vink, is that the university has been able to set up joint ownership schemes for expensive research equipment and facilities.

“It is very satisfying to know and see that Wageningen has an impact on solutions for the big global issues,” he says.


Industry income pillar

Rank in pillar

Position in World University Rankings 

Institution

Country/region

Pillar score

=1

17

Duke University

United States

100.0

=1

=141

Eindhoven University of Technology

Netherlands

100.0

=1

601–800

Federal University of Itajubá

Brazil

100.0

=1

82

University of Freiburg

Germany

100.0

=1

601–800

Istanbul Technical University

Turkey

100.0

=1

=95

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

South Korea

100.0

=1

=34

LMU Munich

Germany

100.0

=1

=27

Peking University

China

100.0

=1

41

Technical University of Munich

Germany

100.0

=1

64

Wageningen University & Research

Netherlands

100.0

=11

=95

University of Basel

Switzerland

99.9

=11

47

KU Leuven

Belgium

99.9

=11

251–300

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

Russian Federation

99.9

=11

251–300

University of the Witwatersrand

South Africa

99.9

=15

63

Delft University of Technology

Netherlands

99.8

=15

501–600

National Cheng Kung University (NCKU)

Taiwan

99.8

=15

=137

Pohang University of Science and Technology

South Korea

99.8

=15

601–800

Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio)

Brazil

99.8

=15

30

Tsinghua University

China

99.8

=20

801+

Akdeniz University

Turkey

99.7

=20

401–500

National Research Nuclear University MEPhI

Russian Federation

99.7

=20

79

RWTH Aachen University

Germany

99.7

=23

601–800

China University of Petroleum, Beijing

China

99.6

=23

601–800

Taipei Medical University

Taiwan

99.6

25

401–500

Tongji University

China

99.4

26

201–250

Yonsei University (Seoul campus)

South Korea

99.2

27

601–800

Beihang University

China

99.1

28

501–600

Harbin Institute of Technology

China

99.0

29

801+

Northeastern University

China

98.9

30

251–300

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Sweden

98.1

31

601–800

King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

Thailand

98.0

32

133

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Germany

97.9

33

92

Technical University of Berlin

Germany

97.8

34

201–250

Korea University

South Korea

97.7

35

501–600

Tianjin University

China

97.1

36

301–350

University of Liège

Belgium

96.8

37

31

University of California, San Diego

United States

96.5

38

601–800

Sharif University of Technology

Iran

96.4

=39

=162

University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

Germany

95.9

=39

201–250

Technical University of Darmstadt

Germany

95.9

41

13

Johns Hopkins University

United States

95.8

42

501–600

King Saud University

Saudi Arabia

95.1

43

=155

TU Dresden

Germany

95.0

44

52

Nanyang Technological University

Singapore

94.0

45

601–800

Beijing Institute of Technology

China

93.9

46

=74

Kyoto University

Japan

93.8

47

=111

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

South Korea

93.7

48

251–300

University of South Florida

United States

93.0

=49

501–600

Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur

India

92.7

=49

501–600

Southeast University

China

92.7


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