Researchers at UK universities are involved in 50 per cent more international collaborations today than they were ten years ago, a study has found.
The report published this week shows that international collaborative research output rose from 97,592 journal articles between 1996 and 2000 to 144,457 between 2001 and 2005.
International research activity has also increased its share of total UK research output from 30 per cent in the 1990s to about 40 per cent in 2005, the report said.
This was hailed as a strong record by Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit, which commissioned the report.
However, the report says the UK is facing increasingly tough competition from countries such as China, which saw its international collaborative research more than double in the same period.
Countries such as the UK with large, well-established research sectors have seen a decline in their global share of international research output, and that trend is expected to continue, the authors suggest.
The UK's most productive international partnerships are with researchers in the US, Germany and France, the study shows, while the fastest-growing link is with China.
Illustrating the extent to which Britain has embraced international research are figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency that show that, in 2007, 40 per cent of research council grants had an international component, while half of PhD students and 40 per cent of research staff were non-UK nationals.
The analysis says strengthening research collaboration is vital if science is to address global challenges such as climate change. It also highlights the importance to the UK of continuing to attract the best scientific talent.
Eric Thomas, chair of the UUK research policy committee, said universities must build on their strong position and ensure that they have a strategy to increase their international research links.
"Having a strong international research record ensures that the UK continues to be seen as one of the locations of choice for researchers, or a key partner of choice," he said.