Less lauded, but more efficient

OECD study finds better use of capacity outside the Anglo-American elite. Elizabeth Gibney reports

May 23, 2013

Countries outside the world’s elite university systems are better at transforming research capacity into citations, a report suggests.

While the US and the UK are good at converting research inputs into outputs and are improving, the likes of Denmark, Switzerland, France and the Republic of Ireland are making the most of their resources and improving efficiency at a greater rate, the study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has found.

Meanwhile, countries pumping huge resources into research such as China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have relatively low and even decreasing levels of efficiency, it adds.

The study, by Dirk van Damme, head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at the OECD, has been produced for the sixth Global University Summit. Organised by the University of Warwick, the summit will be held in London from 28 to 30 May.

Professor van Damme used research and citation scores for the top 200 institutions in the 2012-13 Times Higher Education World University Rankings as measures of “input” and “output” and compared them to gauge efficiency.

The input indicator takes scaled and normalised measures of research income and volume into account, and also considers reputation, while the output indicator looks at citations to institutional papers in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database, normalised for subject differences.

Professor van Damme said that the results - which show that university systems outside the Anglo-American elite are able to realise and increase outputs with much lower levels of input - did not surprise him.

“For example, Switzerland really invests in the right types of research. It has a few universities in which it concentrates resources, and they do very well,” he said.

Previous studies have found the UK to have the most efficient research system on measures of citation per researcher and per unit of spending.

But Professor van Damme explained that under his approach, productivity - output per staff member - was included as an input.

“With efficiency I mean the total research capacity of an institution, including its productivity, divided by its impact. The UK is not doing badly at all, but other countries are doing better, such as Ireland, which has a very low research score but a good citations score,” he said.

Given the severity of the country’s economic crisis, Ireland’s success was particularly impressive, he said.

“I think it is really conscious of the effort it has to make to maintain its position and is doing so.”

Low efficiency scores for China and South Korea reflected the countries’ problems in translating their huge investment into outputs, he added.

The language barrier may contribute to low citation scores, but the fields in which Chinese research was world class remained the exception not the rule, he added.

The study also found a strong correlation between the concentration of academic excellence in a country, as measured by the number of institutions in the top 200, and the nation’s attractiveness to international students.

Professor van Damme said that it was likely that both the high performance of the universities and the reputation boost they received from being included in the rankings were behind the link.


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