Oxford is the world’s best university, topping the 2016-2017 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. But no one has won the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, medicine or economics while teaching or researching at Oxford in the new millennium. Cambridge, fourth in the World University Rankings, has had just one Nobel Prize winner affiliated with it in the new century.
Four of this year’s Nobel Prize winners – Oliver Hart (economics), David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz (physics) – are Cambridge alumni, but all of them are affiliated with American universities: Hart with Harvard, Thouless with the University of Washington in Seattle, Haldane with Princeton, and Kosterlitz with Brown. Bengst Holmstrom, the joint economics prize winner, is affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Americans and American universities dominate the list of Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics. The Times Higher Education reports 72 of the 134 Nobel Prize winners in these categories since the year 2000 are Americans. Several are naturalised Americans like the British-born Hart, Haldane and Kosterlitz who all became American citizens.
The economics prize has become a virtual American monopoly. Americans have won the prize every year since 2000 except in 2014 when Jean Tirole of France was the sole winner.
Princeton now has the highest number of Nobel laureates affiliated with it after Haldane won the physics prize this year. Since the year 2000, Princeton faculty and staff have won six Nobel Prizes in economics (Sir Angus Deaton, 2015; Christopher Sims, 2011; Thomas Sargent, 2011; Paul Krugman, 2008; Eric S. Maskin, 2007; and Daniel Kahneman, 2002), three in physics (Duncan Haldane, 2016; Arthur McDonald, 2015; and David Gross, 2004), two in chemistry (Tomas Lindahl, 2015; and Osamu Shimomura, 2008), and one in medicine (James Rothman, 2013). Even the 2010 Nobel Prize winner in literature, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, won the prize while teaching at Princeton.
Stanford had the highest number of Nobel laurates affiliated with it till last year — 11 in all since 2000. Stanford winners include four in chemistry (WE Moerner, 2014; Michael Levitt, 2013; Brian Kobilka, 2012; Roger Kornberg, 2006), four in economics (Alvin Roth, 2012; Thomas J Sargent, 2011; A Michael Spence, 2001; and Joseph Stiglitz, 2001), two in medicine (Thomas Sudhof, 2013; and Andrew Fire, 2006) and one in physics (Carl Wieman, 2001).
All the 10 universities with the highest number of Nobel Prize winners since 2000 are American – with one exception. Technion Israel Institute of Technology ranks 10th on the list. Princeton is No 1, Stanford 2, Columbia 3, Berkeley 4, MIT 5, Chicago 6, Howard Hughes Medical Institute 7, Harvard 8, University of California, Santa Barbara 9, and Technion 10.
Times Higher Education (THE) drew up the list. It says the list was produced by giving each university a score based on the number of winners affiliated with the institution at the time their award was granted. Literature and peace prizewinners were excluded from the analysis.
Notice how the Nobel Prize winners’ list differs from the World University Rankings. The world’s top 10 universities, according to the World University Rankings, are Oxford No 1, California Institute of Technology 2, Stanford 3, Cambridge 4, MIT 5, Harvard 6, Princeton 7, Imperial College London 8, ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich 9, and Berkeley and Chicago 10.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) is 24th and Nanyang Technological University 54th in the World University Rankings. The rankings are based on the quality of teaching, the quality of research, the international outlook or presence of international students and staff, and the industry income of a university.
“Increasingly, the demand from governments that fund university research is for clear, short-term outcomes, with obvious and immediate applications, and the demand from university administrators is for a steady stream of research publications,” says Phil Baty, THE rankings editor.
“In today’s tighter, tougher climate, it seems clear that much of the work that has won Nobel prizes over the years might not have taken place – it would have been deemed too risky, or to esoteric, or to be taking too long,” he adds.