THE World University Rankings 2021: how research impact is changing

THE data show how the quality of countries’ research in health and life science shifted ahead of the pandemic 

September 2, 2020
Source: iStock

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2021

Research in the medical and life sciences has always enjoyed a high profile around the world, and the coronavirus pandemic has focused even more attention on these vital areas.

But which countries went into the crisis at the cutting edge in these disciplines, and has that picture changed at all over the past few years?

A look at the spread of university citation impact scores for various major research systems, for both the 2016 and the 2021 World University Rankings (see below), gives some insight into answering these questions.

In the life sciences, most larger countries appear to have improved their relative performance, as shown by the right-hand box for each country in this chart. Each box shows the interquartile range of institutions’ citation impact scores, with the middle line representing the median and the “whiskers” outside the boxes showing scores outside this range.

The expansion of the rankings between 2016 and 2021 – up from 800 institutions taking part to more than 1,500 – could explain some of these higher scores as established countries may have improved relative to newcomer nations and institutions in the ranking.

However, the chart still shows some clear changes in the life sciences between the countries, with China’s improvement so great that it is now on a par with Canada’s universities and not far behind France, the US and Germany.

South Korea and Brazil, too, have seen their scores increase by a noticeably large amount, while Japan is conspicuous for being the only nation in the set to have drifted backwards on citation impact.

In the clinical and health subject area, though, there are more dramatic shifts. In general, score distributions for different countries appear to be moving closer together, with France, the US and Germany all losing ground while the Asian nations catch up.

But perhaps the most eye-catching performer in these disciplines has been Brazil, which occupied a score range well behind the other nations in 2016 and now is almost on a par with countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Clinical and health citation scores, 2016 and 2021 compared

Graph: Clinical and health citation scores, 2016 and 2021 compared

Life sciences citation scores, 2016 and 2021 compared

Graph: Life sciences citation scores, 2016 and 2021 compared


Print headline: Biomedical evolution

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