Asia's Most Innovative Universities Education Articles

Published August 30, 2016


Aerial view of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology campus in Daejeon, South Korea. Courtesy Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

China and India have the biggest populations in the Asia-Pacific region, and the economic news coming out of both countries usually dominates world headlines. But it's their relatively small regional neighbors Japan and South Korea that dominate the Reuters Top 75: Asia's Most Innovative Universities, a list that identifies the educational institutions that are doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and help drive the global economy. Out of the top 20 universities, 17 are based in Japan and South Korea.

Topping the list as the most innovative university in Asia is KAIST, also known as Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. Established in 1971 by the Korean government with funding from the United States, the university was modeled after engineering schools in the U.S., and its instruction stresses problem-solving skills and hands-on experience over textbook learning.

KAIST earned its first-place rank by producing original and influential research. Organizations around the world cite KAIST's patent portfolio as significant prior art in their own patent applications more than any other university in Asia - a strong indicator that the university has an outsized impact on global research and development.

That's a key criterion in the Reuters ranking, which was compiled with data from the Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters. The ranking is based on a methodology that focuses on academic papers, which indicate basic research performed at a university, and patent filings, which point to an institution's interest in protecting and commercializing its discoveries.

Universities based in Northeast Asia tend to produce a high volume of patent applications, and that helps their home countries stand out as hot spots for innovation in the Asia-Pacific region. On average, the South Korean and Japanese universities on the list file twice as many patent applications than universities in the seven other ranked countries.

The second most innovative university in Asia is Japan's University of Tokyo. Established in 1877 as the nation's first Imperial university, "Todai" now enrolls more than 28,000 students, and operates 13 universitywide centers and 11 affiliated research institutes. Nearly 200 companies from across the world partner with the University of Tokyo on collaborative research projects, including Johnson & Johnson, which helps sponsor the Department of Healthcare Quality Assessment, and Fujifilm Corp, which backs the Laboratory of Next Generation Drug Development.

The highest ranked school outside of Northeast Asia is the National University of Singapore (No. 11). When it was founded in 1905 as the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School, NUS enrolled just 23 students. The university took its modern form after a 1980 merger with Nanyang University, and currently has about 38,000 students across three campuses.

China's highest ranked university is Tsinghua University (No. 13), a public research university based in Beijing. The university has more than 45,000 students and its faculty includes eight Nobel laureates. Tsinghua is one of nine schools in mainland China that belong to the C9 League, an elite group of universities analogous to the Ivy League in the United States. Another league member, Peking University (No. 16), is the only other Chinese university to crack the top 20.

Overall, there are 22 Chinese universities on Reuters' ranking - more than any other country. But that's not as many as you might expect from such a large nation. China has a massive population of more than 1.37 billion people, so in terms of ranked universities per capita, it ranks eighth out of nine countries. Compare that with top-ranked South Korea, which has 20 schools on the list and a relatively tiny population of just over 50 million people. (Japan also has 20 ranked universities, Australia has six, Singapore, India and Malaysia each have two, and New Zealand has one.)

One reason Chinese universities don't perform as well as their competitors: they tend to submit less of their research to international patent authorities. Universities outside of China are more likely to file patents in the U.S. and Europe as well as in their home country, indicating that those institutions are invested in protecting and commercializing their discoveries.

Chinese universities also don't spend as much time collaborating with private industry. They publish relatively few journal articles in collaboration with industry co-authors, and are cited less often in articles published by corporate researchers. The Chinese universities that collaborate most often with industry are all based in the economically autonomous territory of Hong Kong, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong (No. 21) and Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (No. 30).

Other nations underperform on the ranking because of the way they organize their university systems. Despite boasting the world's second-largest population (more than 1.25 billion) and one of its largest economies, only two Indian universities appear in the top 75, The Indian Institutes of Technology (No. 72) and the Indian Institute of Science - Bangalore (No. 73). The Indian Institutes of Technology is a network of 23 universities which centralize their patent administration, so it's not always possible to identify which constituent university was responsible for what research. As a result, Reuters ranked the entire system as opposed to individual universities. World-class campuses like IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay may have ranked much higher on the list if they weren't grouped in with smaller and newer institutes like IIT Tirupati and IIT Palakkad.

And some countries are missing from the list entirely. There are no ranked universities in Indonesia, which contains Asia's third largest population. Nor are there any universities in Pakistan or Bangladesh, the region's fourth- and fifth-most populous countries, or any universities in the Philippines and Vietnam, two of the region's largest economies.

Of course, just because a country doesn't have any schools in the Reuters Top 75 doesn't mean their universities aren't doing important research. Since the ranking measures innovation on an institutional level, it may overlook particularly innovative departments or programs. A university might rank low for overall innovation, but still operate one of the world's most innovative nanotechnology laboratories, for instance. And it's important to remember that whether they rank in the top 10 or somewhere in the 70s, all the universities ranked in the Asia Top 75 count among the world's best - they all produce original research, create useful technology and stimulate the global economy.

In order to compile its ranking of Asia's most innovative universities, the IP & Science division of Thomson Reuters began by identifying more than 600 global organizations - including educational institutions, nonprofit charities and government-funded labs - that publish the most academic research. Then they evaluated each candidate on 10 different metrics, trimmed the list so that it only included universities located in the Asia Pacific region and ranked them based on their performance. — Reuters


1 KAIST, South Korea

2 University of Tokyo, Japan

3 Seoul National University, South Korea

4 Osaka University, Japan

5 Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH), South Korea

6 Tohoku University, Japan

7 Kyoto University, Japan

8 Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea

9 Yonsei University, South Korea

10 Keio University, Japan

11 National University of Singapore, Singapore

12 Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan

13 Tsinghua University, China

14 Korea University, South Korea

1 5Hanyang University, South Korea

16 Peking University, China

17 Gwangju Institute of Science & Technology, South Korea

18 Kyushu University, Japan

19 Nagoya University, Japan

20 Hokkaido University, Japan

21 Chinese University of Hong Kong, China

22 Ajou University, South Korea

23 Zhejiang University, China

24 Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

25 Kyung Hee University, South Korea

26 Hiroshima University, Japan

27 University of Auckland, New Zealand

28 University of Sydney, Australia

29 University of Tsukuba, Japan

30 Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, China

31 Tokyo Medical & Dental University, Japan

32 Monash University, Australia

33 University of Queensland, Australia

34 University of Melbourne, Australia

35 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

36 Fudan University, China

37 Chonnam National University, South Korea

38 Okayama University, Japan

39 Shinshu University, Japan

40 Kumamoto University, Japan

41 Tianjin University, China

42 Kanazawa University, Japan

43 Ewha Womans University, South Korea

44 Inha University, South Korea

45 East China University of Science & Technology, China

46 Chiba University, Japan

47 Beijing University of Chemical Technology, China

48 Waseda University, Japan

49 South China University of Technology, China

50 Kyungpook National University, South Korea

51 Chonbuk National University, South Korea

52 University of New South Wales, Australia

53 Catholic University of Korea, South Korea

54 Pusan National University, South Korea

55 Nanjing University, China

56 University of Hong Kong, China

57 Huazhong University of Science & Technology, China

58 Southeast University - China, China

59 Konkuk University, South Korea 

60 Kobe University, Japan

61 Dalian University of Technology, China

62 Nankai University, China

63 Harbin Institute of Technology, China

64 Xian Jiaotong University, China

65 Chung Ang University, South Korea

66 Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

67 Sichuan University, China

68 Sun Yat-sen University, China

69 Gyeongsang National University, South Korea

70 Nihon University, Japan

71 Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), India

72 Indian Institute of Science (IISC) - Bangalore, India

73 Putra University Malaysia, Malaysia

74 University of South Australia, Australia

75 University of Malaya, Malaysia

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