UK ranks above the world average for quality of research and remains a strong partner for international research collaboration and mobility

New report measures UK’s research performance (2010-2014) against nations including France, Germany, US, and China

London, October 12, 2017

Data analysis commissioned by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and provided by information analytics business Elsevier, shows that the UK continues to excel as a research nation: despite representing only 0.9% of the global population, it produces 15.2% of the world’s most highly cited research.

While the UK produces research that ranks above the world average for quality, its leading position is being eroded by other countries: the UK’s field-weighted citation impact is 1.57, compared to a global average of 1.0, however its annual growth has dropped from 1.3% (2008-2012) to 0.6% (2010-2014) and in 2014 China overtook the UK in global share of highly cited articles. Worldwide the UK’s share of the share of articles has also dropped from 6.4% to 6.3%.

These are some of the key findings presented in the report International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base 2016.

This report examines the UK’s performance during the period 2010-2014, comparing it with seven other research-intensive countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the US), four other fast growing nations (Brazil, India, Russia, and South Korea), as well as looking at regional research strengths within the UK.

Data in the report suggests that emerging countries such as China, and developed countries such as Italy, could threaten the UK’s leadership position in the longer-term.

Measures of research performance analysed include: research quality, research investment and commercialisation, research mobility, and international collaboration.

Five key findings from the report are:

The UK remains a highly productive research nation, but competition from other countries is increasing

  • The UK’s engineering, physical science and mathematics research levels are below the global baseline – not because UK output has dropped, but because other nations have increased their own shares
  • Competition from emerging markets (especially China) is eroding the UK’s global share in key research indicators: China overtook the UK in global share of highly cited articles in 2014

The UK is a key partner for global research collaboration and researcher mobility

  • The UK attracts the very best researchers from across the globe. These researchers are highly productive and contribute heavily to the UK’s overly large share of highly cited publications
  • Nearly half the UK active researcher population is transitory. These transitory researchers (i.e. less than two years in the same country) are, on average, the most productive

To maintain the UK’s leadership position on the global research stage, continued investment in its national research base is needed

  • UK’s level of R&D spending has remained flat as a proportion of GDP
  • UK’s R&D intensity is lower than that of China, France, Germany, and the US

Commercialisation of UK research

  • UK’s income from intellectual property has grown since 2010, but the number of spin-off companies has reduced significantly
  • Although the UK accounts for a small proportion of global patenting activity (2% of global total) a high proportion of UK research is cited in patents (9.1% share)

UK’s regions have distinct research strengths

  • UK regions show diverse strengths in different fields, but Greater London and South East England had the highest shares of the total of all UK publications in most research fields

Dr Nick Fowler, Managing Director Research Networks at Elsevier said: “The UK will need to make strong policy decisions to maintain its attractive research climate. With our data and analytical capabilities, Elsevier aims to help UK academia and government track and measure key success factors such as collaboration and researcher mobility, which contribute to the country’s scientific excellence. As was the case with previous reports we have produced for BEIS, this level of data analysis provides a unique window into the UK’s research sector.”

This is the third consecutive report in this series by Elsevier: the first was published in October 2011 and the second in December 2013. The reports analyses data derived from sources including Elsevier’s Scopus database, the OECD, and WIPO.


Note for editors
For a copy of the report, go to:

For interviews please contact Sacha Boucherie

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Sacha Boucherie
Global Communications, Elsevier
+31 20 485 3564