Reuters has ranked the top 100 universities across the world, putting Stanford University at the top and naming KU Leuven as the most innovative institution in Europe.

Reuters, the UK-based news agency, has released its annual ranking of the top 100 most innovative institutions across the world and recognised Stanford University as the top achiever for the third year running.

The list tracks and ranks universities with regards to their scientific output, the invention of new technologies and their impact on new markets and industries.

Using data collated by research firm Clarivate Analytics, Reuters ranked institutions based on a range of criteria – patent volume, patent success, global patents, patent citations, patent citation impact, percent of patents cited, patent to article citation impact, industry article citation impact, percent of industry collaborative articles and total web of science core collection papers.

The list, perhaps unsurprisingly, remained identical at the top to last year’s: behind Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) held on to second place, while Harvard University retained the third spot. University of Pennsylvania meanwhile climbed four places to fourth place.

Notably, the most innovative university outside of the US according to Reuters’ analysis is neither University of Cambridge (in 26th place) nor University of Oxford (in 31st place), two institutions widely regarded as research powerhouses. Instead, the fifth place – and thus highest place for a Europe-based university – went to KU Leuven.

The ranking noted the nearly 600-year-old Belgian institution as “one of the largest independent research and development organisations on the planet”.

Luc Sels, rector at KU Leuven, said: “This result is an incentive. It indicates that our university is not just a place for intellectual debate, research-driven education and ground-breaking fundamental research, but that we also contribute a great deal to innovation and valorisation, and, as such, to the socioeconomic development of our society.

“Making up the top five together with Stanford, MIT, Harvard and University of Pennsylvania motivates us to focus on our strengths even more: the combination of fundamental and applied research, supported by KU Leuven Research & Development – a world-class tech transfer office.”

On the other hand, Asia-based institutions are still playing catch-up with their western peers: only two of them have made it into the top 20 out of a total of 20 in the ranking, versus 51 North America-based universities, 26 Europe-based institutions and three from the Middle East.

Admittedly, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology came in at sixth place, a strong performance for an institution that usually does not appear on Global University Venturing’s radar. Pohang University of Science and Technology made it into 14th place.

Reuters primarily blames the underperformance of Japan, which relies on government R&D spending, for the lack of Asian institutions in the list. The economy has been flatlining for more than two decades, resulting in less money being available for research. In fact, the report noted that contributions from Japanese researchers to scientific journals fell from 8.4% in 2005 to 5.2% in 2015.

University of Tokyo thus dropped from 17th to 21st place, while Osaka University dropped from 13th to 24th and Keio University fell from 25th to 78th. Tohoku University found itself in 39th place and Hokkaido University in 95th. The only institution to rise slightly was Kyushu University, going from 79th place to 68th.

More promising signals came from China, however, where Tsinghua University climbed 15 places to become number 51 and Peking University went from 70th place to 60th. Zhejiang University has managed to enter the ranking for the first time, coming in at number 100. With the largest population of any country on the planet though, a mere three universities still marked somewhat of an underperformance by the People’s Republic.

Filling out the top 10, in order, were University of Washington, University of Michigan System, University of Texas System and Vanderbilt University.

The top-ranking UK institution was Imperial College London in 15th place, ahead of European peer Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne in 19th place.

While some universities will undoubtedly be happier than others with their place in this ranking, they all wound up among the top 100 most innovative institutions – an impressive feat on its own. Reuters also acknowledged that the ranking takes into account the overall output and a low-ranking institution may very well be a world-leader in one particular field.