Scottish institutions beat their English and international counterparts in terms of bang for research buck, according to a new report.
A key measure of research quality is the number of times academic papers are cited by fellow researchers, according to the Universities Scotland report. Scotland tops a 19-strong league of states - plus the European Union overall -for the number of citations per 1,000 people in the population. It scores 47.5, while England stands at 31.2 and the US at 26.6.
The report, Top of the Class: Benchmarking Scottish Higher Education , shows that Scottish institutions achieve this at the lowest cost. Each Scottish research paper costs $17,600 (£9,300), while an English paper costs $18,146 and a US one $32,615.
Scottish universities, says the report, are also more productive in terms of educating students than the police are at solving crimes or the National Health Service at treating patients.
The report is aimed at Scottish ministers in the run-up to the spending review, amid fears that universities will not be able to compete against institutions south of the border, which will be better off as as result of top-up fee income after 2006. Scottish universities are bidding for an extra £100 million for research and teaching.
Universities Scotland aims to show how well the sector uses the £700 million it receives from the public purse.
Bill Stevely, its convener, who is principal of the Robert Gordon University, said: "We can guarantee that if there is an increase in funding to us, we can justify that outlay and show that we provide value for money."
Universities Scotland has used a range of statistics, including figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Scottish Executive and the research citations database Thomson ISI, to make its case.
Scotland beats Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and North America in producing 8.9 academic papers for every 1,000 of the population, compared with 5.8 in England and 4.4 in the US.
It is among the world leaders in the percentage of students completing courses, and has made substantial improvements in the past decade in the number of non-UK student applications, first degrees, first-class degrees and raising private income.
Since 1994, universities have educated 17 per cent more students per pound spent, while the police have solved only 2 per cent more crimes, and the health service has treated 3 per cent fewer patients.