By 2000 more than half of the United Kingdom's scientific papers will each be produced by three or more researchers working in more than two institutions or organisations, say researchers at Sussex University.
In a study of recent trends in science research, the researchers, based at the Science Policy Research Unit, say that in 1991, 40 per cent of papers published involved collaboration between researchers in different institutions compared with 28 per cent in 1981.
International scientific partnerships involving UK researchers increased 75 per cent in the 1980s. These partnerships accounted for 23 per cent of published papers. One third were based on collaboration with researchers in the United States and one third with colleagues in the European Union.
Report authors, Sylvan Katz, Diana Hicks, Margaret Sharp and Ben Martin, conclude "that internal dynamic processes are reshaping the science system, so that soon collaboration will become the rule not the exception".
The SPRU report is based on a study of UK scientific publications recorded in the Science Citation Index between 1981 and 1991. The index covers about 3,500 of the world's leading scientific journals.
The researchers say that the UK conducts 8 per cent of the world's science. Papers in SCI journals by UK authors rose from 31,170 to nearly 37,870 - a 16 per cent increase. Universities were the largest contributors with a 58 per cent share followed by hospitals with 22 per cent, research councils 11 per cent and industry 8 per cent.
At 37 per cent, the medical field provided the largest number of publications by UK researchers followed by biology with 12 per cent and chemistry 10 per cent. Life sciences made up 60 per cent of publications, natural sciences 24 per cent, interdisciplinary work 10 per cent and applied science 6 per cent.
Hospitals showed the fastest growth of publications and Government was the only sector in decline. Universities and hospitals were the largest publishers.
While more than 2,000 firms published papers during the 1980s, for most it was a "one-off event". Just 11 per cent of firms published more than one paper a year.
The Changing Shape of British Science is published by SPRU at University of Sussex and costs Pounds 15.