China dominates list of biggest movers in high-quality research

Half of list of 100 fastest-rising institutions in terms of contribution to the Nature Index is made up of Chinese universities and institutes

September 19, 2018
Night view of the city of Shenzhen, China

Chinese universities have dominated a list of institutions with the fastest-growing share of research published in a group of prestigious journals.

Half of the top 100 institutions in Nature Index’s Rising Stars table – and all but one of the top 10 – hail from the country, underlining the rapid increase in China’s high-quality research output.

The Nature Index analyses research published in 82 prestigious natural science journals selected by two independent panels of scientists. The journals include well-known titles such as Nature, Science and Cell.

The Rising Stars table looks at the 100 universities and research institutes whose relative contribution to the journals increased the most from 2015 to 2017 based on their “fractional count” of authorships in each paper. A university would score a fractional count of 1 if one of its researchers was the sole author on an article.

Topping the list was the graduate-level University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose fractional count increased by more than 150 over the period – around twice as much as the second-placed institution, Tsinghua University.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University was in third place, with an increase in its fractional count of 61. And showing its rapid rate of progress despite being ranked at 225 overall in the index, the Southern University of Science and Technology was the fourth-highest mover, with its relative contribution to the journals rising by 52.

It is not until seventh place in the list that there is an institution from outside China – the Indian Institutes of Technology. The first university from Europe or North America to appear in the list is the University of California, Irvine, in 11th place.

The US still has 20 institutions in the Rising Stars table despite already contributing by far the most to the index overall. The country’s overall fractional count was almost 20,000 in 2017, more than twice the second-placed country, China.

However, the UK has just two universities (the University of Bristol and the University of Edinburgh) in the Rising Stars list. The only other nations with more than two institutions are Germany and the Netherlands (both four) and India (three).

The data are further evidence that China’s meteoric rise in world research is not just confined to volume. A data analysis by Elsevier for Times Higher Education earlier this year suggested that the country could overtake the US for overall research quality in the mid-2020s. The positions of Chinese universities in the THE World University Rankings are also likely to be something that observers pay keen attention to when the latest list is published next week during the World Academic Summit in Singapore.

Elsewhere in a Nature Index publication accompanying the Rising Stars table, there is a closer look at the countries that have been increasing their contribution to the index the most apart from China, including Brazil and Iran.

There are also profiles of 11 up-and-coming researchers in the natural sciences who have been highlighted for their contributions to Nature Index journals, as well as success in other metrics related to impact.

They include Sarah Garfinkel, a cognitive neuroscientist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School; Jaemin Kim from Stanford University, who specialises in wearable electronics; and Giorgio Vacchiano, an ecologist from the University of Milan.

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