The 20 most innovative universities in Europe, KU Leuven tops list

23 May 2017 5 min. read

Multinational mass media information firm Thomson Reuter’s annual rankings for Europe’s top 100 innovative universities are predictably dominated by the Oxbridge elite – however topping the list ahead of the UK’s prestigious institutions, Belgium’s KU Leuven can call itself the continent’s most innovative university.

Oxford and Cambridge have attained world renowned recognition in all fields and disciplines, leading to them invariably being acknowledged as Europe’s best universities. While various league tables continue to award their top rankings to campuses with the highest level of academic reputation and levels of employability – with Oxbridge competing for first and second place in most instances – there is a great deal more to this perceived dominance than mere reputation. Course, location, price and academic performance are critical factors in rising through the ranks, which have become increasingly important as universities jostle with one another to attract the next generation of student intake.

KU Leuven

Against the financial and academic dominance of British institutions then, it may come as a surprise that the most innovative university according to Thomson Reuter’s 2017 list is KU Leuven. Situated in the heart of Belgium, the university consistently ranks among the world’s top 100 universities, but in this case it came first, out-flanking the better established universities located in the UK. Imperial College London – whose researchers were famously attributed with the discovery of penicillin, advancement of holography and the development of fiber optics – and Cambridge, which has produced a current total of 91 Nobel Laureates, sat second and third, with Oxford ranking 10th.

The 600-year-old institution at Leuven provides a stimulating home for an assortment of fundamental and applied research projects, in addition to notable development organisations. KU Leuven owes much of its success to the production of inventions in microelectronics, nanotechnology and ICT systems. A special consideration being paid to its Laboratory of Virology and Chemotherapy, where a groundbreaking discovery of an experimental antiviral drug designed to fight hepatitis C, and techniques to slow down the emergence of the Zika virus had been developed. The researchers at KU Leuven have yielded more patents than the vast majority of academic institutions in Europe.

The 100 most innovative universities in Europe, KU Leuven tops the list

The Reuters league table for university innovation is notable for its continuing prioritisation of disciplines within the natural sciences, while also crediting universities for contributing the most to science and technology, thereby aiding not to only to society alone but also the global economy as a whole. Thomson Reuters’ founding criteria for this set of rankings measured universities based on proprietary data and carefully selected analysis tools from Clarivate Analytics (formerly the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters) in order to retrieve a number of patent and research orientated metrics, whereby the essence of innovation can be evaluated.

The distribution of the most innovative universities lies in the West of Europe, which drastically outnumber Eastern European institutions, with 60 out of 100 are located in the West. 24 of the universities featured were in Northern Europe, compared to 15 in Southern Europe and only 1 in Eastern Europe. Consistent with most prestigious league tables, the location and price of these prestigious bodies will undoutbtedly disadvantage a certain amount of individuals, as they capitalise on booming reputations to justify tuition-fee hikes – however, according to the criteria of this list at least, the campuses may be expensive, but they at least work to aid society at the same time.

20 most innovative universities

An overview of the top twenty innovative universities in Europe:

1.      KU Leuven (Belgium)
2.      Imperial College London (UK)
3.      University of Cambridge (UK)
4.      Technical University of Munich (Germany)
5.      École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
6.      University of Erlangen Nuremberg (Germany)
7.      Pierre & Marie Curie University (France)
8.      Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
9.      University of Zurich (Switzerland)
10.   University of Oxford (UK)
11.   Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland)
12.   University of Munich (Germany)
13.   University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
14.   Technical University of Denmark (Denmark)
15.   University of Montpellier (France)
16.   University of Manchester (UK)
17.   Leiden University (Netherlands)
18.   Free University of Berlin (Germany)
19.   Ghent University (Belgium)
20.   University of Paris Descartes (France)