Students at MIT’s annual Design and Manufacturing remotely control a robot designed to hoist a flag onto a hillside.Credit: Tony Pulsone/MIT

Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lead the pack for the fourth year running, having contributed the largest share of articles published in the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index, as measured by fractional count (FC).

Among the top 10 institutions, China’s Tsinghua University showed the strongest growth in high-quality research output, compared with 2017. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and Peking University also made solid progress in 2018, each climbing the ranks by two places. See the 2019 Annual Tables Top 100 academic institutions for 2018.

1. Harvard University

Fractional count*: 874.68 (−7.3%), Article count: 2,371

Ranked number 1 in the Nature Index Annual Tables 2019 for academic institutions, life sciences, and Nature and Science categories, Harvard also took the second spot in the overall top 10 (behind the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and seventh in physical sciences.

One of the oldest universities in the United States, and one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, its full-time faculty members number 2,280, with an additional 9,457 full-time affiliated appointees at the Harvard Medical School.

The recent launch of the Harvard Data Science Initiative, involving more than 100 researchers from several schools, and the Harvard Quantum Initiative, which brings together scientists and engineers from across sectors to leverage the advances in how information is gathered, stored and processed, exemplifies the new era of collaborative research, says vice-provost for research, Richard McCullough.

“Our faculty have the ability and intellectual curiosity to solve problems in a much more interdisciplinary way,” he says.

2. Stanford University

Fractional count: 622.01 (−2.6%), Article count: 1,507

A centre for pioneering work in everything from DNA synthesis and organ transplantation to the first office desktop-computer displays and GPS technology, Stanford University also appears in the Nature Index top 10 lists for 2018 for chemistry, physical sciences, the life sciences and overall.

The birthplace of Google and Yahoo!, Stanford maintains close ties with Silicon Valley as a centre of technological advancement and entrepreneurship. Its annual budget of US$1.63 billion (2018) supports more than 6,000 projects, including the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory — which has the world’s most powerful X-ray free-electron laser — and Bio-X, where doctors, scientists and engineers collaboratively try to unravel the complexity of the human body.

Renowned alumni include Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Richard Taylor, who shared the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics for research that led to the discovery of quarks.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fractional count: 560.28 (1.5%), Article count: 1,698

As one of the world’s most prestigious higher-education institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) has been at the frontier of research for more than 150 years, its close ties with industry fostering an emphasis on entrepreneurship and applied science. Along with Stanford, MIT also appears in the Nature Index top 10 lists for 2018 in the overall, chemistry, physical-sciences, and life-sciences categories.

“MIT’s motto is mens et manus (Latin for ‘mind and hand’), and MIT has a deep-seated philosophy of learning by doing and solving real-world problems,” says vice-president for research, Maria Zuber. “The ethos of the institute is to strive to apply knowledge and skill to benefit the world.”

With 30 departments across 5 schools and an annual revenue of more than US$3.6 billion (2018), MIT is replete with specialized research instruments, such as a pressurized wind tunnel for testing aerodynamics; a towing tank for testing ship and ocean structure designs; and one of the largest university-based nuclear reactors in the country.

4. The University of Cambridge

Fractional count: 437.83 (0.8%), Article count: 1,283

The University of Cambridge has moved from 6th in 2015 to 5th in 2016 and 2017 in the top 10 rankings for academic institutions, to hit its highest rank in four years in 2018 as the 4th most prolific academic publisher of high-quality research, as tracked by the Nature Index.

Cambridge is one of the world’s oldest higher-education institutions, and one of its most prestigious, with a track record of more than 800 years. More than 100 of its staff or alumni have won Nobel prizes and it is the birthplace of significant discoveries such as the structure of DNA, and how to split the atom.

Today, its rising stars include Rogier Kievit, who studies neurodevelopmental changes in cognitive abilities such as reasoning, problem-solving and goal management. Another notable figure is Hannah Critchlow, who has been named not only a Top 100 UK scientist by the Science Council for her work in science communication but also one of the university’s most “inspirational and successful” women.

5. The University of Tokyo

Fractional count: 430.86 (−12%), Article count: 1,100

Founded in 1877, the University of Tokyo is the oldest and largest of Japan’s national universities. It has produced 15 prime ministers, 10 Nobel laureates, and 5 astronauts, among other notable alumni. It also ranks sixth in the world for high-quality research output in physical sciences in the Nature Index, and ninth overall in our top 10 research institutions for 2018.

Chemist Hiroaki Suga heads an organic chemistry laboratory at the university and is the co-founder of PeptiDream, a US$5-billion biotech company. Suga is regarded as a key example of how professors in Japan can be successful in both academia and industry, having secured lucrative partnerships with pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

The University of Tokyo encompasses three core campuses in Hongo, Komaba and Kashiwa, and has an annual budget of about ¥258,819 million (US$2.3 billion). It counts 358,373 paper citations between 2013 and 2017.

6. Peking University

Fractional count: 411.85 (0.5%), Article count: 1,427

Peking University was China’s first public comprehensive university, set up in 1898. Since then, it’s been considered one of the country’s two best universities, alongside its neighbour and rival, Tsinghua University.

In 2018, its ranks in the categories of chemistry, Earth and environmental sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences were 5th, 10th, 11th, and 39th, respectively. It outranks Tsinghua in the academic and chemistry tables, but is outranked in the physical sciences.

Recent widely discussed papers by Peking University researchers include an analysis of projected decreases in global beer supply owing to extreme drought and heat (Nature Plants, 2018), and the discovery that the Milky Way is far more warped than previously thought (Nature Astronomy 2019).

High-profile alumni include pharmaceutical chemist, Tu Youyou, credited with discovering the malaria treatments artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin — a major breakthrough in twentieth-century tropical medicine — and Zhou Guangzhao, former president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, known for his pioneering work in particle physics to advance understanding of symmetry breaking.

7. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Fractional count: 406.52 (2.2%), Article count: 1,017

Established in 1855 as a dedicated science institution, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) has a long history of ground-breaking advances, particularly in the physical sciences, chemistry and mathematics.

With 500 professors and 260 senior scientists, ETH Zurich has jumped from ninth to seventh place for academic institutions in the Nature Index since 2017. The physical sciences account for almost 40% of ETH Zurich’s papers.

In 2018, ETH Zurich’s total revenue rose to 1.8 billion Swiss francs (US$1.8 billion), with the federal government contributing 1.3 billion Swiss francs to its funds. Researchers at the university also received 26 prestigious European Research Council grants.

Several teams at ETH Zurich have played a key role in developing instruments on NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which detected signals of a ‘marsquake’ in April 2019.

8. University of Oxford

Fractional count: 403.77 (−4.3%), Article count: 1,197

The University of Oxford is the oldest in the English-speaking world, with teaching dating back as far as 1096. Today, it maintains its prestigious reputation with eighth place among the leading academic institutions in the Nature Index. The largest share of the university’s scientific output is in the life sciences, with papers in the discipline contributing around one-third of its output.

Research funding provided by councils, trusts and industry is Oxford’s largest source of income, accounting for 26% of its funds — the highest research income of all the United Kingdom’s universities. Oxford is also home to the Beecroft Building, a new US$64-million facility dedicated to experimental and theoretical physics with laboratories designed for making precise measurements at the atomic level.

In 2018, Oxford researchers co-authored an influential analysis of how to reduce the environmental impacts of food. The paper, published in Science, triggered widespread debate about food choices, such as avoiding dairy and meat.

9.Tsinghua University

Fractional count: 392.96 (6.5%), Article count: 1,303

Established in 1911 as a preparatory school for students who would go on to further education in the United States, China’s Tsinghua University became nationally famous in the 1920s, and continued to attract government investment for decades after.

It has had the highest budget of any university in China in recent years. In 2018 and 2019, its overall budgets were 26.95 billion yuan (US$3.9 billion) and 29.72 billion yuan, respectively — much higher than the university with the second highest budget, Zhejiang.

In addition to its budget, which is mainly used for education, Tsinghua receives billions in research grants each year. It currently employs 3,485 faculty members, including 51 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and 39 members of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

In this year’s annual tables, Tsinghua climbed one rank from last year and showed an annual growth rate of 6.5%.

10. University of California, Berkeley

Fractional count: 387.04 (-8.5%), Article count: 1,195

The University of California, Berkeley, (UC Berkeley) opened in 1868 with 10 faculty members at its original Oakland campus. Today, it has more than 1,600 faculty members, 130 academic departments and 80 interdisciplinary research groups. In the Nature Index, the life sciences, physical sciences and chemistry each account for more than one-quarter of UC Berkeley’s research output.

UC Berkeley, the flagship institution of the University of California system, is home to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Founded by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who invented the cyclotron, the Berkeley Lab is supported by the US Department of Energy. The national laboratory is developing a number of new facilities, including the world’s brightest soft X-ray synchrotron light source, two dark-energy detectors, and a supercomputer.

Among the institution’s most discussed papers last year was a study in Cell revealing that the Bajau Laut people of southeast Asia have evolved larger spleens, which enable them to free dive to depths of up to 70 metres.

Index metrics

*Fractional Count is assigned to institutions based on the contributions of their affiliated authors to articles in the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index database, with all authors on each article considered to have contributed equally, and a maximum combined FC for any article of 1.0.

The bracketed figure shows the percentage change in the institution’s Fractional Count in the subject in 2018.

An institution is given an article count of 1 for each article that has at least one author from that institution in one of the 82 journals that make up the Nature Index.