By By David Ewalt
For the third year running KU Leuven tops Reuters ranking of Europe’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
A Dutch-speaking school based in Belgium‘s Flanders region KU Leuven was founded in 1425 by Pope Martin V and continually produces a high volume of influential inventions. Patents filed by KU scientists are frequently cited by other researchers in academia and in private industry.
That’s one of the key criteria in Reuters’ ranking, which was compiled in partnership with Clarivate Analytics, and is based on proprietary data and analysis of patent filings and research paper citations.
Overall, the most elite ranks of Europe’s Most Innovative Universities have held steady from last year, with the UK’s Imperial College London (#2) and University of Cambridge (#3) holding onto their top spots for the third straight year.
Other leading institutions simply traded a few spaces, like the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (#4, up one), University of Erlangen Nuremberg (#5, up one), and the Technical University of Munich (#6, down two). The remainder of the universities in the top 10 moved up from the teens: The University of Manchester (#7, up nine), University of Munich (#8, up four), Technical University of Denmark (#9, up five), and ETH Zurich (#10, up one).
But even though the usual suspects continue to dominate Europe’s Most Innovative Universities, political uncertainty may be causing a big swing in where innovation happens.
The trend is most clear if you consider the sum of changes in rank for each country’s institutions: The 23 German universities on this year’s list cumulatively rose 23 spots, more than any other country. Switzerland was second, with five universities up a total of 8 spots. And in contrast, the list’s 21 UK-based universities dropped a cumulative 35 spots.
Why is this shift occurring? The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” from the European Union is almost a year away, but Europe’s scientific community may already be leaving the UK in favor of research institutions on the continent.
A February 2018 study published by the UK-based Centre for Global Higher Education reports that many German academics view Brexit as an “advantage,” and hope to use it to attract UK researchers to German universities; in turn, UK academics report that their own postdocs aren’t seeking positions in the UK and are looking at the EU or United States instead.
And as Brexit actually unfolds, it could get worse: A November 2017 study performed by the School of International Futures for the UK’s Royal Society describes a possible post-secession United Kingdom where universities compete for a shrinking pool of skilled workers, projects that used to receive EU funding wither, researchers receive fewer invites to join consortia and attend conferences, and overseas collaboration is limited.
Similarly, EU-based businesses that fund research at universities may prefer to keep their investments within the region in order to avoid the tax and regulatory headaches of working with post-Brexit UK institutions.
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