World University Rankings 2018: top performers in our research pillar

Research powerhouses find fuel to raise work to new levels in collaborations that cross institutions, industries and disciplines. Linda Nordling writes

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


The University of Oxford dominates the research pillar in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 – which aggregates three metrics assessing institutions’ research reputation, productivity and funding – just as it did last year. Over the past 12 months, it has invested strongly in research: it has topped out a new £40 million physics building, opened a £115 million health and big data institute, and established a new superconductor centre in its department of materials and physics.

Just behind Oxford are Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, while the California Institute of Technology has improved by two spots since last year, climbing to fourth place. Tsinghua University, China’s highest-placed university in this table, also advanced, rising from 10th place to seventh.

The fastest climber at the top of the research table is Princeton University in New Jersey, which has moved up from 15th place last year to sixth this year. Pablo Debenedetti, Princeton’s dean for research, attributes this in part to last year’s extraordinary recognition for the university’s work in quantum materials. “The theoretical component of that work was acknowledged with the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Duncan Haldane in recognition of his discoveries on topological phases of matter,” he says.

Imperial College London bolstered its research standing, rising from 18th place last year to 12th this year. Nick Jennings, Imperial’s vice-provost for research, says that several factors could have contributed to this, including improved connectivity between research disciplines and expanding research partnerships. “We work hard to break down silos between academic departments and disciplines,” he says. “We encourage collaboration through global institutes, networks and centres that bring together researchers from all our faculties.”

Imperial also looks to external partners, be they other universities or industrial concerns, to help it achieve more than it could alone, Jennings says. An example of this is its joint seed fund with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched late in 2015, to support “risky” research.

“When we look at THE ’s World University Rankings, we see collaborators, not competitors,” Jennings says. “This approach helps us tackle some of the world’s most important issues, including health inequalities, climate change, big data and molecular engineering.”

The “London effect” helps as well, Jennings adds. Despite the uncertainties caused by Britain’s pending break from the European Union, the UK capital still brims with activity in science, technology, finance and culture that creates exciting research and innovation opportunities, he says.

“In my own field of artificial intelligence, London is central to a new generation of pioneering AI businesses and academics,” he explains.

The National University of Singapore has risen from 17th place to joint 13th place in the research table. In 2016, the NUS launched its Smart Nation Research Cluster, an initiative to build capacity in data science feeding into Singapore’s ambition to become a data-driven “smart” nation. The cluster brings together several NUS institutes and centres working in data science, operations research, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“All the faculty, researchers and students in the cluster will be co-located in one refurbished building at the end of this year,” says Tan Chorh-Chuan, president of the NUS. “These and other initiatives will help to ensure that the NUS’ education, research and service contributions will remain innovative and relevant to Singapore, Asia and the world.”

Another Asian institution that is skipping up the research table is Kyoto University in Japan. It has risen from 45th place last year to 32nd this year. In 2012, it launched the Kyoto University Research Administration Office (Kura). Kura’s most important job has been to assist the university’s domestic and international researchers in grant-writing, collaboration between institutes, and research promotion. According to Kyoto, Kura is now the largest university research administration organisation in Japan.

Kyoto University strives to build an environment of academic freedom and autonomy in research,” says Nagahiro Minato, Kyoto’s executive vice-president for research, planning and hospital administration. The university also established an office of global communications in October 2015, which has resulted in an increase in high-quality research output in English.

Johns Hopkins University also scaled the research table this year. It is in joint 15th place, up from 23rd last year. Famous for its medical research, the Maryland institution has been the top recipient of US federal research funding for nearly four decades. A major boost to the university’s research effort in the past few years has been recruitment of the first 30 of what will eventually be 50 Bloomberg distinguished professors. These are top-flight researchers, each with a foot in at least two of the university’s divisions and departments, intended to serve as focal points for interdisciplinary research.

“In the past year, Johns Hopkins researchers have generated knowledge that benefits all of humankind through discovering new cures and treatments, expanding our understanding of the universe, and strengthening our local and national economy,” says Denis Wirtz, the university’s vice-provost for research and a chemical engineer.

“We are proud that Johns Hopkins is internationally known for this great history and our continuing accomplishments.” 


Research pillar

Rank in pillar

Position in World University Rankings 

Institution

Country/region

Pillar score

1

1

University of Oxford

United Kingdom

99.5

2

6

Harvard University

United States

98.4

3

2

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

97.8

4

=3

California Institute of Technology

United States

97.5

5

=3

Stanford University

United States

96.7

6

7

Princeton University

United States

93.9

7

30

Tsinghua University

China

93.2

8

=10

ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Switzerland

92.0

9

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States

91.9

=10

9

University of Chicago

United States

90.1

=10

=10

University of Pennsylvania

United States

90.1

12

8

Imperial College London

United Kingdom

88.7

=13

=22

National University of Singapore

Singapore

88.2

=13

16

University College London

United Kingdom

88.2

=15

15

University of California, Los Angeles

United States

88.1

=15

13

Johns Hopkins University

United States

88.1

17

12

Yale University

United States

87.0

18

20

Northwestern University

United States

86.7

19

19

Cornell University

United States

86.6

20

21

University of Michigan

United States

86.3

21

46

University of Tokyo

Japan

85.2

22

=27

Peking University

China

85.1

23

=22

University of Toronto

Canada

84.8

24

18

University of California, Berkeley

United States

84.5

25

24

Carnegie Mellon University

United States

83.7

26

14

Columbia University

United States

83.3

27

17

Duke University

United States

80.6

28

=25

University of Washington

United States

79.9

29

31

University of California, San Diego

United States

79.8

=30

33

Georgia Institute of Technology

United States

78.9

=30

37

University of Illinois
at Urbana‑Champaign

United States

78.9

32

=74

Kyoto University

Japan

78.6

33

40

University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

77.9

34

=27

New York University

United States

77.4

35

=38

Karolinska Institute

Sweden

74.4

=36

=27

University of Edinburgh

United Kingdom

74.2

=36

32

University of Melbourne

Australia

74.2

38

43

University of Wisconsin-Madison

United States

73.9

39

=34

LMU Munich

Germany

72.3

40

=34

University of British Columbia

Canada

72.2

=41

48

Australian National University

Australia

72.0

=41

63

Delft University of Technology

Netherlands

72.0

=41

=25

London School of Economics and Political Science

United Kingdom

72.0

=44

36

King’s College London

United Kingdom

71.2

=44

=74

Seoul National University

South Korea

71.2

=44

41

Technical University of Munich

Germany

71.2

47

47

KU Leuven

Belgium

70.9

48

42

McGill University

Canada

70.8

49

60

Purdue University

United States

68.9

50

44

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong

68.4


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