Research collaboration differs between Europe and US

Researchers in America are more likely to collaborate with peers outside the US than European researchers are to work with colleagues outside Europe, according to a new report. But it says the benefits of collaborating outside their region are proportionally greater for European than for US researchers.

“Other studies have shown that research nations benefit from collaborative research, in particular international collaborations, as they typically result in higher citation impacts, a quality measure of research articles,” the report states.

Researchers at Science Europe and the giant Amsterdam-based publishing company Elsevier prepared the 50-page report, Comparative Benchmarking of European and US Research Collaboration and Researcher Mobility.

It shows that both Europe and the US have experienced steady growth in overall collaboration rates since 2003.

Inter-country collaboration in Europe showed an increase, from slightly more than 11% in 2003 to 13% of articles in 2011, contrasting with recently decreasing levels in analogous inter-state collaboration in the US, at 16% of articles in 2011.

“Europe and the United States collectively represent some of the greatest scientific nations in the world. Europe is home to 1.64 million researchers while the US number approaches 1.47 million,” the report says.

It says a common concern voiced by various groups in Europe is that there is less collaboration between researchers across that continent than might be found between researchers elsewhere:

“The US is often held up as an example where researchers are able to collaborate more freely than in Europe – in particular, there are concerns that researchers may be less mobile between, and may be less likely to collaborate with, partners in the different countries of Europe compared, for example, with researchers in the different states within the US.”

Although there are various cultural, linguistic and legal reasons why this would be expected to be the case, the report says that until this point no comparative work had explored the extent to which research collaboration and researcher mobility actually differed between Europe and America.

The study

The team that prepared the report focused on the extent to which research collaboration and researcher mobility patterns differed between Europe and the US, based on an analysis of the Scopus publication database.

The comparison was made by exploring the extent to which academics collaborated on research papers and the amount of researcher mobility within Europe or within the US and beyond, based on author affiliations.

“In particular, we are interested in whether there is as much collaboration between countries in Europe as there is between states in the US,” the writers say. “As the first study of its type, [this report] serves as a benchmark against which we can compare such collaboration in the future.”

More findings

“In terms of absolute volume of research outputs (articles, reviews and conference papers indexed in Scopus), Europe collectively produces more than the US alone, which stands as the world’s most productive research nation,” the authors write.

And the gap is growing. In 2011, Europe produced 33.4% of the world’s research outputs, while the US accounted for 23.4%.

“We divide papers into five categories: single author; those involving collaboration between authors in a single institution; collaboration within a single country (Europe) or state (US); collaboration between countries in Europe or US states; and collaborations involving at least one researcher from outside either Europe or the US.

“We find that inter-country collaboration in Europe accounted for 13% of papers in 2011, while inter-state collaboration in the US accounted for 16% of papers. Also, this small difference is diminishing – the percentage rose by more than two points between 2003 and 2011 in Europe while the percentage in the US fell slightly over that period.

“This suggests that the national and European-level mechanisms to encourage cross-country collaboration in Europe seem to be working. As we might expect, though, there is considerable variation by discipline.”

The report says that while the collaboration patterns between European countries are broadly similar to those between US states, it is clear that institutional migration of researchers between different countries within Europe is considerably less frequent than migration between states in the US.

“The attitude among funding agencies to allowing their grants to move across borders may be part of the explanation for this, but factors that are more likely to be influential would include differences in culture, language, administrative systems, benefits, pensions and other support systems, which continue to vary considerably across Europe.

“In contrast to this, there is greater comparability of employment law and compensation packages between states in the US.”

The study authors found evidence that European and US researchers alike were collaborating with researchers in some of the smaller research nations, such as Albania and Macedonia, even where this did not improve the citation impacts for those countries.

In fact, both the collaboration network for countries in Europe and the network for states in the US are almost exhaustively inclusive, in the sense that in 2011 every state or country collaborated with every other state or country within the two regions.

Elsevier spokesperson Nick Fowler said mobility and collaboration were key mechanisms for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of research.

The collaboration between Elsevier and Science Europe had generated new insights about mobility and collaboration trends of European and American researchers, Fowler said, adding that, as such, the report provided a helpful basis to further improve the quality of research outcomes.

Professor Paul Boyle, president of Science Europe, said the findings provided an understanding of the current status of collaboration and mobility of research communities, and would serve as a basis for driving effective policy.

“The report provides new benchmarks which will be invaluable to reference in the future to assess the impact of research policies within the European Research Area," Boyle said.

* Science Europe is an association of 53 research funding organisations from 27 countries, representing around €30 billion per year. It was founded in October 2011 with the aim of promoting the collective interests of members and providing them with a platform to collaborate at both policy and activity levels.

* Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company publishes more than 2,000 journal and 20,000 book titles. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide and is part of the Reed Elsevier Group, which has more than 30,000 employees.