The report, published on 6 December, says that the average number of citations garnered by UK papers relative to the world average in their field – which is often used as a measure of quality - has been higher than that of papers from any other nation since 2008, and the gap is growing.
Produced by Elsevier and commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, it also shows that, by 2012, the citation impact of the nation typically regarded as producing the highest quality science, the US, had slipped behind Canada and was on a par with that of Germany and Italy.
The study compares UK research spending, staffing and outputs to comparator nations China, Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and France, as well as to India, Russia, and Brazil.
Overall, the UK’s position has improved since the report was last produced, in 2011.
Its 4.1 per cent share of the world’s researchers now produce 6.4 per cent of research articles, garner 11.6 per cent of citations and produce 15.9 per cent of the most highly-cited articles. The figures in the previous report, based on data for 2010, were 4.2, 6.4, 10.9 and 14 per cent respectively.
The UK is also the most productive comparator nation in terms of articles and citations per unit of research and development spend. The UK accounts for just 3.2 per cent of global R&D expenditure, and its total spending decreased by 0.8 per cent a year between 2007 and 2011.
Only German papers are cited more frequently than UK papers in global patents. However, the UK filed just 2.4 per cent of global patent applications; only Canada and Italy among the comparator nations filed lower proportions.
Universities and science minister David Willetts said: “This report clearly demonstrates the continued strength of our science research base and that the UK continues to punch above its weight.
“I’ve often said that I want the UK to be the best place in the world to do science and this research shows that we are well on our way to achieving this goal. An excellent research base contributes directly to economic growth and is keeping us at the forefront of the global science race.”