Science Europe and Elsevier release report on research collaboration
Iris Kisjes | Senior Corporate Relations Manager, Elsevier
Collaboration is necessary to grapple with the world’s problems, and research is an important way to bring great minds together from around the world.
In research, collaboration leads to significant benefits, some measurable (such as increased citation impact and access to new markets) and others less easily quantifiable (such as broadening research horizons). Therefore, it’s important for governments and research organizations to encourage collaboration.
This kind of collaboration was behind a new report by Science Europe and Elsevier, titled Comparative Benchmarking of European and US Research Collaboration and Researcher Mobility.
Professor Paul Boyle, President of Science Europe, and Dr. Nick Fowler, Managing Director of Academic and Government Institutions at Elsevier, recently presented the findings at Science Europe’s headquarters in Brussels.
The report presents basic but critical information about the collaboration and mobility of researchers, which will allow us to better understand the research landscape and how it evolves. The findings will be useful to a wide range of professionals, from individual researchers to universities and institutes that hire researchers, and organizations and government agencies that fund research.
Why research collaboration is a priority in Europe
The facilitation of collaboration has a positive impact not only on the science conducted but on broader objectives, from enhancing domestic prosperity to addressing specific challenges.
Meanwhile, researcher mobility – the extent to which researchers change their institutional affiliations among states and countries – can reflect the circulation of ideas and the strengthening of collaboration networks, and on average bears significantly higher citation rates.
This is why promoting research collaboration has become a priority in the European Union. This goal has also prompted the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quin, to build the European Research Area (ERA), which aims to ensure the free circulation of researchers, knowledge, ideas and technology across Europe.
Research collaboration and mobility are key topics for the ERA as well as for Science Europe and the European Commission.
In government, there are various levers policy makers can use to encourage collaboration or alleviate some of the burdens of collaboration. However, sometimes what might seem to be a simple scheme to encourage collaboration can carry unintended consequences.
It is therefore important to understand Europe’s research environment and the levels of collaboration in Europe. To put these levels into perspective, the report benchmarks Europe with the United States.
Science Europe is an association of European Research Funding Organizations (RFO) and Research Performing Organizations (RPO), based in Brussels. Its founding General Assembly took place in Berlin in October 2011. Science Europe promotes the collective interests of the Research Funding and Research Performing Organizations of Europe. It supports its Member Organizations in their efforts to foster European research and aims to strengthen the European Research Area (ERA) through direct engagement with key partners.
Findings show that both Europe and the US have experienced steady growth in their overall collaboration rates since 2003. Inter-country collaboration in Europe also showed an increase, from slightly over 11% of articles in 2003 to 13% of articles in 2011, contrasting with the recently decreasing levels seen in analogous inter-state collaboration in the US, at 16% of articles in 2011.
Papers were divided into categories of collaboration, and European countries were analyzed as geographic units comparable to US states. Similarly, 41 countries of Europe were treated as a “region” that is comparable to the 50 US states, also referred to as a region.
The analysis, conducted by Elsevier’s SciVal Analytics team based on Scopus data, showed that levels of single authorship and single institution outputs are essentially the same between Europe and the US. Combined these categories account for 43% and 42% for Europe and the US respectively.
However, intra-country collaboration levels are proportionally much higher in Europe (20%) than in the US (10%). Conversely, levels of inter-country collaboration are proportionally slightly lower in Europe (13%) than in the US (16%) although this small difference is diminishing, suggesting that the national- and European-level mechanisms to encourage cross-country collaboration in Europe may be working.
Finally, a smaller proportion of European researchers (23%) collaborate with researchers outside of Europe than in the US, where 30% of researchers collaborate outside of the US.
On mobility, European researchers are less mobile within and outside of Europe than US researchers are within and outside the US. For Europe, the high-impact countries tend to show high mobility, whereas for the US, the high-impact states tend to show low mobility.
Where do we go from here?
Does this mean that all European researchers should now go out and seek collaborators to work with outside of Europe?
Well, not exactly, though the statistics do suggest that this would have a positive effect.
In the end, these figures are presented to help underpin some of the assumptions we make about the positive effects of collaboration – and in doing so, should help stimulate the ongoing debate among governments, funding organizations and institutions to encourage collaboration. They all need to continue to break down barriers to collaboration and implement well thought-out schemes to encourage both collaboration and researcher mobility as the benefits are evident.
A report that will follow in a few years should be able to indicate whether we’ve been doing a good job at it.
This article first appeared in Elsevier Connect.