Swiss role inflated

February 11, 2000

Recent studies by the Office of Science and Technology and our own research in Leeds show that on a "bangs per buck" basis or measured by research impact per capita the UK stands at the top of any league table and university research provides outstanding value for public funding.

That said, some scepticism about the bibliometric analyses in your story ("UK pips US at the post in research poll", THES, February 4) may be introduced by the unusual position of Switzerland in the subject examples you chose (biotechnology, pharmacology and physics). Switzerland is innately not a major research player. Its performance is enhanced in these areas by the presence of major commercial bio-pharma headquarters and by Cern. Research that is, in fact, attributable to scientists from many countries - not least the UK - is consequently "attached" to these Swiss addresses. But the underlying investment is not attributable to the host country.

A more coherent picture is built up by bringing together data on funding inputs and research activity and outputs.

Comparisons between these over long periods establishes not only which countries are delivering the best research but where in those countries true excellence may lie. We have been carrying out such an analysis for the Higher Education Funding Council for England and these results will form an input to the present fundamental review due out for consultation later this year.

Jonathan Adams Higher education policy unit and dean for strategic development University of Leeds

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