Are universities picking the right research partners?

Stakeholders in Sweden’s research system should reconsider how they develop future international collaboration to take into account the fast pace of growth in research in countries that are not among Sweden’s main partners, according to a new report released by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education or STINT.

Sweden has only limited research collaboration with most of the fastest-growing research countries, according to the study. Most of its research collaboration is carried out with Sweden’s neighbours and other European countries.

The report said: “Among the 47 countries in the world that have relatively extensive research [productivity], Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have the highest growth in number of publications. Sweden is ranked at position 31. And if you look at growth in research quality, the list is topped by Saudi Arabia followed by Iran, Pakistan and China.

“A comparison with the national priorities within research, economics and development aid demonstrates that the majority of cooperation is with countries that, like Sweden, have a low or slow growth in research.”

This analysis of indicators for countries’ academic and economic development gives new insight and raises many questions.

Andreas Gothenberg, executive director of STINT, raised the key question on his Twitter page: “Are Sweden’s academic links strategic?”

STINT is recommending that stakeholders in the Swedish research system analyse the findings of the study and take into account the changing academic world map when developing their academic cooperation plans.

“The ongoing investigation for a new strategy for internationalisation in higher education and research is a possible instrument to drive changes in this direction,” the STINT report recommended.

The report, Sweden’s International Research Collaboration: How should it be further developed?, was presented by Programme Director of STINT, Hans Pohl, who oversaw its production.

The report was presented at a seminar on 7 November at STINT, at which the special investigator on internationalisation in Sweden, Agneta Bladh, gave an update on the status of her work. University World News recently reported on aspects of her work.

At the presentation Dr Maissa Al-Adhami, coordinator of the faculty office and international relations at Karolinska Institute, observed that some universities in Saudi Arabia are more open than others and asked whether STINT was promoting collaboration between countries or higher education institutions.

Pohl said: “It is obviously necessary to look at the higher education institution level when you are searching for collaboration, not least because a match in the scientific profiles is important. Moreover, my impression is that, unlike in Sweden, where all higher education institutions are relatively similar, the differences between institutions in the rapidly developing countries are much larger.”

Measurements of research development

The report examines the performance of 207 countries against a range of different indicators of the development of research capability.

The analysis divides the countries into four groups:
  • • 47 countries with more than 10,000 publications over the two decades (1996-2016) studied;
  • • 44 countries with more than 1,000 publications but less than 10,000;
  • • 51 countries with more than 150 publications; and
  • • 65 countries with less than 150 publications over this period.
The top five countries with a strong development of the field-weighted citation index, or FWCI, over 2010-16 are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Hungary, China and Poland, followed by Iran, the Russian Federation, Romania, Singapore and Ukraine.

The development of the FWCI for a number of countries demonstrates that in terms of quality Saudi Arabia has reached the level of the United States and that Pakistan has risen significantly above the world average, while the FWCI for Thailand, Sweden and the US has decreased slightly.

Comparing measures in research investment per capita GNP (gross national product), China has the fastest development over the period 1996-2016 and over the recent period (2010-16). The other fast-growing countries measured as a percentage of GNP are India, Romania, the Russian Federation, Ireland, Indonesia and Poland. The Russian Federation has a fast development over the whole period, but more modest over the past seven years.

Measured for growth in investment in research in total in 2010-16, China ranks top, followed by Thailand and Malaysia.

The report also develops an index for international scientific collaboration – a Normalised Collaboration Intensity Index or NCII – where 100% indicates a collaboration in proportion to the country’s share of the global volume of international co-publications.

When looking at countries with more than 10,000 publications in 2016, the five countries collaborating most with Sweden in science are (NCII in parentheses): Norway (394%), Finland (366%), Denmark (336%), Hungary (214%) and Greece (179%).

Countries with relatively low collaboration with Sweden include Saudi Arabia (27%), Hong Kong (28%), Egypt (33%), Indonesia (37%) and South Korea (40%).

The data on publications are taken from the Scopus database of Elsevier publishers and the World Bank.

For quality in scientific publication, the FWCI is used. It compares the number of citations an article receives with the average number of citations received by all other articles in the same academic field, published in the same year in the same type of publication. FWCI=1 means that the article is of the same quality as the world average, while a number greater than one indicates a citation impact above the world average.

The report, as well as the report presentation at the seminar on 7 November (in Swedish with figures in English), are available here.