International comparative performance of the UK research base – 2011

UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills

In 2011 the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned Elsevier to assess the performance of the UK's research base compared with seven other research-intensive countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US). Where data were available, Elsevier also made comparisons with the EU27, the G8 nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries' groups, and three other fast growing nations (Brazil, Russia and India).

The report, 'International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base – 2011,' is the first of a new biennial enquiry into the international standing of UK research. The evidence gathered for this report evaluates the effectiveness of the UK’s 2010 Science and Research Budget of £4.6 billion to achieve high international standards of research performance.

To generate this report, Elsevier's Analytical Services team examined metrics and benchmarks derived from a range of sources including Scopus data, R&D expenditure and human capital data from the OECD, patent information from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), SciVal Spotlight and usage of UK-authored articles from ScienceDirect®. The team also produced case studies by interviewing leaders in a number of the 400+ areas where UK research is distinctively strong.

The core findings

As demonstrated by the analysis, the UK is a global research leader, attracting more citations per pound spent in overall research and development than any other country. The UK research base is highly mobile, internationally competitive and diverse. But the global research landscape is fluid, dynamic and intensely competitive, and the UK’s ability to sustain its position is far from inevitable against the backdrop of emerging research nations. While R&D spending and the number of researchers remain essentially constant in the UK, these critical research inputs are growing rapidly in emerging players like China, India and Brazil.

Figure 1: The comparative output per researcher in the UK and other selected nations in 2010.
Figure 1: The comparative output per researcher in the UK and other selected nations in 2010. Although the UK is below average in Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD), it produced more highly cited articles and generated more citations than the other countries.
Figure 2: The international mobility of UK researchers from 1996 to 2010.
Figure 2: The international mobility of UK researchers from 1996 to 2010. Over 60% of researchers that are or have been affiliated with UK institutions have also published articles while working at institutions outside the UK. Researchers returning to the UK after an extended time abroad produce more articles than those who never left the UK.

Next steps for UK universities

In the face of the intensely competitive dynamics outlined in this report, UK universities are now using several approaches to sustain and advance their research positions, including improving their funding win-rates, attracting the best researchers, increasing the efficiency of the research process and having better information to monitor and manage research performance.

In order to standardize the way that research information is used, for example, eight UK universities are working in partnership with Elsevier to define and agree their needs around metrics for decision making. The resulting metrics, Snowball Metrics, are a set of freely available methodologies, and it is aspired that they become global standards which enable truly comparable institutional benchmarking.

Furthermore, UK universities are preparing to submit returns for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) new method for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). The first REF assessment cycle will be completed in 2014, and with Scopus® as the sole bibliometric provider, Elsevier will help support how UK funding bodies allocate their research funding to UK HEIs.