UK universities benefit from European and global collaboration

New report looks at the impact of international academic collaboration across the UK research base. The leading edge of research is shared across countries.

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International research collaboration helps academics increase their impact and enables the academic talent pool to address global issues.

UK universities have seen rapid growth in international academic collaboration, according to a new report, with EU and global collaboration increasing from about 10% of UK research output at the start of the 1980s to more than half of all academic research today.

The report published by Digital Science with Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit explores the implications of international research collaboration for UK universities.  The report’s authors analysed address data for the authors of articles and reviews in journals indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science since 1981. Total research output in some established economies has more than doubled over the 30 years, with almost all the growth being driven by international partnerships.

In 1981, about 90% of UK research output was 'domestic'.  Domestic research now accounts for less than half of the UK’s research output.  Almost all the growth in output of the last three decades has been produced by international partnerships.  The USA continues to be the UK’s most frequent partner country but its dominance has declined, with Germany and France becoming increasingly frequent partners.  The UK’s research collaboration with Europe has increased at a faster rate than with other partners and now covers more than half of all collaborative papers.

  • Co-authors from EU increased from 43% in 1981 to more than 60% of the UK’s international co-authors after 2011
  • UK research collaboration with Germany increased by 35% between 2000 and 2014

The report compares institutions' degree of international collaboration with their citation impact, finding a "strong association between each institution’s average citation impact … and the percentage of its papers that have an international co-author."

The fourth age of research enterprise

The leading edge of research has shifted from national to international networks and universities that are not involved in international collaboration risk being left behind.    Knowledge capacity is compromised by a failure to be active internationally. The most research active universities are working with partners in other countries. To remain competitive it is essential that each university develops a strategy to expand its international engagement.

Shared research brings with it shared content and shared intellectual property, and as a consequence, the agility to be able to exploit knowledge ahead of competitors will be critically important to future success. 

 The Implications of International Research Collaboration for UK Universities Research can be downloaded here.