Venezuela research output plummets as political crisis grips state

Data on research output in South America paints a stark picture for the troubled nation

March 12, 2019
Source: Getty
Falling: the number of academics in Venezuela publishing research indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus database has plummeted by a fifth

The political and economic crisis that has been engulfing Venezuela has been accompanied by a huge drop in the amount of research being produced by academics from the country, data show.

According to the latest figures, the country has fallen behind historically less research-intensive South American neighbours such as Peru and Ecuador since 2014, with scholarly output dropping 14 per cent from 2013 to 2017.

Perhaps most worryingly for the country, the number of academics publishing research indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus database has plummeted by a fifth over the same period, while its near neighbour Colombia increased authorship by 64 per cent.

Venezuela is now ranked seventh in South America for research output, publishing about 9,000 pieces of research from 2013 to 2017, and is even set to be overtaken by Uruguay, a much smaller nation with a population around a tenth of the size.

Scores of people have died in Venezuela during protests sparked by the stand-off between Nicolás Maduro, who has led the country since 2013, and Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, who declared himself national president last month in the wake of 2018’s contested elections. The country’s economy has collapsed under Mr Maduro’s rule.

Brazil remains the powerhouse nation for research on the continent, with its overall scholarly output numbering more than 350,000 publications from 2013 to 2017, way ahead of the second-placed nation, Argentina, with almost 70,000.

Colombia, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength on overall research output in recent years, and with almost 50,000 publications over the period is not far behind Chile and Argentina.

The figures are likely linked to a brain drain of academic talent from Venezuela to neighbouring nations and beyond. Various reports on the state of universities in the country have painted a grim picture of conditions for scholars and students in the country, with the latest reports suggesting some institutions could now be at risk of closing.

A university professor at the top of the career ladder may earn only about $10 (£8) per month while the majority of teachers, lecturers and other university staff earn less than $6 per month, one academic told Times Higher Education last month.

The only possible silver lining in the data for Venezuelan research is that the share of publications that involve collaboration with academics abroad still appears to be growing. In 2017, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of research involved international collaboration, up from 47 per cent in 2014.

Also, not all universities in the country saw their academics’ research output fall. One of the Venezuelan institutions in the THE World University Rankings 2019, the University of the Andes in Mérida, managed to increase its publications by 12 per cent from 2013 to 2017, although 9 per cent fewer authors were publishing research.

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