British pair bask in peers' acclaim

October 7, 2005

Martin Ince on the best in science and technology

The UK is still home to the world's top scientists, according to our poll of their peers around the world. Scientists asked to name the best universities in the world, in the areas of academic life they know about, ranked Cambridge and Oxford universities first and second, respectively, both in 2005 and in 2004.

The UK Government, which likes to say that the UK is the world's top science nation after the US, will take comfort from this poll. The UK is at the start of a ten-year programme of investment designed to make it a world centre for science.

On this measure, expert opinion suggests that the top British universities, at least, are already in pole position.

The sheer cost of science research means it is not a game for less prosperous nations. The top ten is made up of six US institutions along with Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London from the UK and Tokyo from Japan. Beijing, at 14, Moscow, at 21 and the Indian Institutes of Technology, at 36, are the highest entries from less prosperous nations.

The top 100 science universities come from 26 countries, but the US accounts for 23 placements, with the UK and Germany taking 11 each.

Asian institutions are also highly rated by their peers, with a total of 29 universities cited. But the data we show on their scientific productivity, measured by cited papers, is less definitive. Many Asian universities are regarded as excellent by their peers, but they do not produce significant numbers of papers as measured by the Essential Science Indicators database.

This may partly be because they publish too little in English or in high-impact journals. In addition, their publishing profile may alter in future years to yield more highly cited papers.

The top UK universities also produce papers that bring in fewer citations than their US competitors. The difference between UK and US universities may reflect a higher US concentration on the biological sciences, where papers tend to be more heavily cited.

But, despite everything that is said about research being a global industry, researchers still tend to cite colleagues from their own country, which gives the biggest producer a significant home advantage.

The data published here covers whole-organism biology, microbiology, agriculture, environment and ecology, mathematics, materials, physics, chemistry, space science and the geosciences.

  Tables available in Statistics section:  

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