South Korea and Japan dominate latest ranking of Asia-Pacific’s ‘most innovative universities’

When it comes to being innovative, universities in Japan and South Korea rule the roost, with institutions from the two countries taking up the Top 10 positions in Thomson Reuters’ ranking of the Top 75 universities in the region, released this week.

South Korea’s Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) topped the list, followed by Japan’s University of Tokyo. Here are the Top 10 institutions on the list:


  1. Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (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

South Korea’s strong standing in the rankings is no surprise: the country has among the highest research and development spending in the world, investing around four percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), while China, which has a far larger population, only spends 1.6 percent of its GDP.

Overall, institutions from South Korea and Japan comprised over half the list, with up to 20 institutions each, but China claimed the title of the most represented country, with 22 institutions altogether, including three in Hong Kong.

However, according to Reuters: “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.”

Reuters explained that among the reasons Chinese universities didn’t perform as well compared to its competitors was due to the fact that “they submit less of their research to international patent authorities” and “don’t spend much time collaborating with private industry”.

China’s highest ranking institution was Tsinghua University (#13).


The National University of Singapore just missed making the Top 10, ranking at #11, while Nanyang Technological University made #35.

Up to six Australian institutions ranked on the list, the highest one being University of Sydney (#28). However, New Zealand’s only university to make the list outranked them all, with University of Auckland at #27.

India and Malaysia were represented by two universities each, with Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore at #71 and #72 respectively, and Putra University Malaysia and University of Malaya rounding off the list at #73 and #75.

The ranking is based on institutions that are “doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies, and help drive the global economy”, putting emphasis on patent applications and success, particularly institutions which filed 50 or more patents between 2009 and 2014, as well as how often the university’s patents were cited by others.


“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,” Reuters added.

Universities in Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Vietnam – countries with large populations and economies – failed to make the list, which was conquered by the wealthiest and most developed countries in the region – an indication that national expenditure on research and development does make a difference.

“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,” clarified Reuters.

You can check out the full list of Reuters Top 75 Most Innovative Universities in Asia here, including a detailed methodology and profiles of the universities.

Image via KAIST

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