Access to local journals boosts research output – Study

A lack of appropriate publication avenues in certain countries is resulting in missed opportunities for increased research output, according to a study from India that points to a correlation between countries that have higher numbers of indexed local journals and higher research output.

The study, titled "Exploring the Relationship Between Journals Indexed from a Country and its Research Output: An empirical investigation" and published in Scientometrics, has suggested that developing countries should focus on creating more publication avenues.

In addition to the provision of suitable avenues for publication of research output, the study suggested there is a need to ensure publication of research concerning domestic and locally relevant issues, a reduction in Article Processing Charges (APCs), and improvements in the “whole scientific publishing model”.

The research was conducted by Vivek Kumar Singh and Prashasti Singh at Banaras Hindu University, India; Ashraf Uddin at the American International University-Bangladesh; Parveen Arora at India’s Department of Science and Technology; and Sujit Bhattacharya at CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Policy Research (CSIR-NIScPR) in India.

The study used the Scopus database to identify the number of journals indexed and the volume of research output during the period 2005–2019 from 50 countries, including Egypt and South Africa from the African continent.

Global productivity

The study showed that the United States, China, United Kingdom and Germany are the leading countries in terms of numbers of research papers published from 2005-2019.

In terms of rate of growth, the study observed that countries like India (10.13%), Iran (16.27%), Malaysia (17.75%), Saudi Arabia (18.01%), Pakistan (15.87%), Indonesia (23.45%), Colombia (15.65%) and Serbia (11.11%) have high growth rates when it comes to in numbers of publications.

Countries like the US (2.66%), UK (3.76%), Germany (3.12%), Japan (0.93%), France (3.05%), Canada (4.18%), Taiwan (3.43%), Israel (3.15%), Greece (3.48%) and Hungary (3.64%) have relatively low growth rates.

However, the US, UK, Netherlands and Germany have the highest number of journals, constituting about 63% of the total journals published in the world.

The study observed a positive correlation between the numbers of journals indexed from a country and its research output in 32 out of the 50 countries studied, indicating that countries that have higher numbers of journals indexed also have higher research output.

Growth in home journals

The study showed that the total number of Egyptian and South African journals indexed in Scopus increased from 44 and 38 in 2005 to 194 and 81 in 2019 respectively. This resulted in an annual growth rate in the number of journals of 10.4% and 5.94% in Egypt and South Africa respectively – higher than the world average of 2.99%.

The study indicated that the rising number of home or local journals may be influenced by a large numbers of latent factors including "the presence of big publishing houses, reputed universities and research institutes and professional/academic societies, [and] liberal endowment funds”.

It noted that the demands of inclusivity and the need to address a global audience could be a motivating factor behind the inclusion in Scopus of journals from emerging and developing countries.

Pressure to address “the bias of journals from English-speaking countries may also be another reason behind the shift that is observed in journal inclusion," the study pointed out.

Subject area

The study showed that the number of Egyptian and South African publications increased from 3,951 and 6,204 in 2005 to 20,483 and 18,570 in 2018 respectively. This resulted in an annual growth rate in the number of publications of 11.94% in the case of Egypt.

The study also confirmed positive correlations between the number of journals in a subject area and the research output in that area; for example, agricultural and biological sciences and business, management and accounting in the case of Egypt and South Africa respectively.

The study indicated that "growth of research output of a country has to be attributed to both quantity (growth in journal indexing) and quality (increase in internalisation and quality of science) factors".

Egypt and South Africa showed a decline in the proportion of papers in home journals from 0.10 and 0.15 in 2005 to 0.05 and 0.11 in 2019, according to the study.

The researchers explained this by saying that research output “has grown at a rate faster than the rate of growth of home journals and was expanded to include other internationally oriented journals too.

"It appears that other factors like internationalisation of scientific publishing and growth in the publication base (including growth in number of researchers) of different countries may also be playing an important role in the growth of their research output," the study noted.

The study indicated that Scopus has increased its coverage significantly in recent years and has paid “special attention” to journals from developed/emerging economies.

"Thus, Scopus is much more diversified now in terms of indexing journals from different countries," the study noted.

"Therefore, one may be tempted to postulate that this is the underlying factor that has led to an increasing positive association between journals indexed from a country and research output."

Policy implications

The study argued that the availability of more publication avenues in a country should be an important goal for science policy, especially for developing countries which are expanding in terms of Gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) and full-time equivalent (FTE) researcher numbers, but perhaps not enough in terms of publication avenues.

"Concentration of the majority of the journals in certain selected countries indirectly guide the research agenda and theme in other countries," the study said.

"Many times, researchers ignore working on domestic and locally relevant problems, as such research work is less likely to find a place in international journal … Given that research has a special significance for the local and national context in which it is done and the problems that it solves, there should be enough [journals] for publishing such research work," the study suggested.

As pointed out by the study, there are almost no institutional support mechanisms available in the developing countries to bear the APC. "Therefore, if there are suitable numbers of publication avenues in a country, they are more likely to be situated in the context and one may expect that barriers of high APC may not be there with them," the study indicated.