Asia Pacific’s Most Innovative Universities 2019

By David M. Ewalt

For the first time, South Korea’s Seoul National University tops Reuters’ ranking of Asia Pacific’s Most Innovative Universities, a list that identifies and ranks the educational institutions doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and power new markets and industries.

SNU unseats three-time No. 1, KAIST, formerly known as the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, which dropped to second place. SNU researchers consistently produced a high volume of patents, and their research is frequently cited by scientists throughout Asia and around the world. Those are key criteria in Reuters’ ranking of Asia Pacific’s Most Innovative Universities, which was compiled in partnership with Clarivate Analytics, and is based on proprietary data and analysis of indicators including patent filings and research paper citations.

Seoul National University’s campus in Seoul, South Korea.Photo by Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

Rounding out the rest of the top five schools in Asia are Korea’s POSTECH, which held onto third. China’s Tsinghua University (No. 4, up one), became the highest-ranking school outside of Korea, leapfrogging Japan’s University of Tokyo (No. 5, down three). Though Tsinghua and UTokyo each made only minor moves on the list, their new order is notable because the flagship university of China is now ahead of the flagship of Japan, a result that mirrors the overall performance of the two countries on Reuters’ Innovative Universities lists.

Four years ago, China had zero schools in the top 10, and Japan had five; today China has two in the top 10, and Japan has three. Japanese institutions returning to the list in 2019 fell an average of 5.1 places year over year; only six institutions on the list fell by more than 10 places, and four of them were Japanese. Meanwhile, Chinese institutions were up overall, gaining an average of about one spot. Two Chinese schools climbed more than 10 places, and China is home to the only new university on the list, the Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications (No. 53).

Overall, nations that dominate Asian business and politics also dominate the ranking. China has 28 universities on the list, including three in Hong Kong; Japan and South Korea both have 19 universities; Australia has five; Singapore has two; and New Zealand has one. Despite boasting one of the region’s largest economies, only one Indian university appears on the list, the Indian Institutes of Technology (#75). IIT is a network of 23 universities which centralizes its 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, so world-class campuses like IIT Delhi may have ranked much higher if they weren’t grouped in with smaller and newer institutes.

To compile the 2019 ranking of the Asia Pacific region’s most innovative universities, Clarivate Analytics identified more than 600 global organizations that published the most articles in academic journals, then reduced that list to only include institutions that filed at least 50 patents with the World Intellectual Property Organization between 2012 and 2017. Then they evaluated each candidate on 10 different metrics.

Of course, the relative ranking of any university does not provide a complete picture of the scope of its researchers’ work. Since the ranking measures innovation on an institutional level, it may overlook particularly innovative programs: a university might rank low overall, but still operate the world’s fastest supercomputer, for instance. And even the universities at the bottom of the list are still the very best in the region: All 75 of these institutions produce original research, create useful technology and stimulate the global economy.

Editing by Arlyn Gajilan and Alessandra Rafferty

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