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NIU ranked third nationally for ‘innovation impact productivity’

August 17, 2020

A new report assessing U.S. comprehensive research universities ranks NIU third nationally for “innovation impact productivity”—or the bang for the buck per research dollar spent.

The ranking can be found in the report, “The Innovation Impact of U.S. Universities,” released earlier this summer by the George W. Bush Institute and the Opus Faveo Innovation Development consulting firm.

“The report clearly shows our outstanding research programs make the most of limited resources,” said Jerry Blazey, NIU’s vice president for research and innovation partnerships. “We’re third highest in the country in terms of research and innovation efficiency, and we’re the highest in the MAC and in Illinois in that category.”

Study authors examined 195 comprehensive research institutions for overall innovation impact and separately for productivity in converting research inputs (measured in terms of research spending) to innovation impact output. Their findings produced a first-of-its-kind set of rankings measuring the impact universities and research institutions have on the U.S. economy and society based on their innovation.

The study underscores the pivotal role of American universities in fueling innovation and driving economic growth.

“Our aim in publishing rankings is to highlight high-performing institutions—particularly standout performers in innovation impact productivity—so that other institutions, as well as policymakers and other leaders, can learn from their example,” the report states.

Data for the study was obtained from the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) for the years 2013 to 2017, patent citations, academic paper citations, graduate numbers and other university attributes from publicly available websites.

The study authors created composite scores that combined nine variables measuring the success of universities in:

  • Technology commercialization.
  • Entrepreneurship based on intellectual property and technologies licensed from the university.
  • Research impact on other researchers and inventors.
  • Production of STEM graduates at the Ph.D., master’s and bachelor’s levels.

For productivity rankings, institutions were separated into five categories based on research spending and mission: largest, mid-sized, smallest, medical and health institutions. (Smaller research universities are small only by comparison, as institutions reporting data to AUTM primarily consist of relatively large universities.)

The top tier of smaller universities, which included NIU, accounted for the study’s highest innovation impact productivity scores. NIU ranked behind only Brigham Young University and the University of Wisconsin system.

“A number of considerably smaller institutions besides BYU, such as Northern Illinois University and Creighton University, achieve significant innovation impact with much smaller resources,” the report states.

Blazey noted that NIU performed particularly well in measures of research impact, which includes paper and patent citations, and teaching impact, which looks at the number of STEM degrees awarded to NIU graduates. Research and teaching work spills over to local economies by producing STEM graduates who frequently opt to stay in the area for the long term.

“Supported by our strong scores in research and teaching, this ranking really speaks to the high caliber of our NIU faculty,” Blazey said. “In the future, our scores are going to get even better because we’re putting more emphasis on other important innovation factors highlighted in this report, particularly commercialization and entrepreneurship.”

In the category of overall innovation impact, the University of California System took top honors, followed by the University of Texas System and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked 12th.

“Universities play an important role in fostering innovation in communities across the country, and that innovation drives economic growth and rising levels of prosperity,” J.H. Cullum Clark, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and co-author of the report, said in a press release. “These findings are especially critical as universities re-evaluate their priorities in a difficult environment, and as policymakers consider the role that higher education and research can play in a post-COVID economic recovery.”