Data bite: which countries are best at cross-border collaboration?

Data from the THE World University Rankings suggest that European nations come top for co-authorship of papers

August 29, 2017
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Academics are increasingly being encouraged to collaborate across borders, not least due to evidence that international co-authorship of papers is linked to them being citied more often.

Bringing scholarly expertise from different countries to projects is often encouraged as part of grant funding too, especially for cross-border programmes such as the European Union’s Horizon 2020 scheme.

So in which countries are academics better at working with colleagues based abroad?

According to data from Times Higher Education’s 2016-17 World University Rankings – which contain a metric that scores institutions for the proportion of internationally co-authored papers that academics produced – France comes out on top, at least for nations with 20 or more universities in the rankings. The country’s institutions score an average of 75.9 out of 100 for co-authorship, while the UK is second with 73.8 out of 100 and Germany third with 72.7.

The success of these European countries might be linked to the scholarly collaboration that occurs as a result of Horizon 2020 funding. Indeed, Spain and Italy’s universities also score relatively highly on the metric out of other countries that make the list despite their relatively poor scores in other areas of the rankings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, large emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia and China score less highly for co-authorship, while the US also lags behind those countries with the highest average scores.

However, on another measure of the globalisation of academia – the share of an academic workforce that comes from overseas – the US fares slightly better. Out of nations with at least 20 institutions in the rankings, it comes fourth with an average score of 47.1 out of 100, ahead of France and Germany.

The leading country on this measure is Australia, whose universities have an average international-to-domestic-staff ratio score of 81, followed by the UK (74.6) and Canada (70.9).

Again, two large emerging economies – this time Brazil and India – have the lowest average scores for the proportion of international academics at their universities but Spain and Italy are also surprising in their presence towards the bottom of the list. Meanwhile, countries in East Asia such as South Korea and China, where there has been an overt drive to try to internationalise the academic workforce in recent years, come ahead of these nations. 

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