UK environmental research deemed world class

A recent report commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has revealed that UK research is ‘punching above its weight’ in the global research field, with strong global collaboration and academic-industry partnerships helping to deliver high impact research in a range of disciplines.  In particular, environmental science research was highlighted as being a leader in both excellence and impact.

The report is an international comparative performance of the UK research base, and compares the performance of UK research against seven other countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and USA), three fast growing nations (Brazil, India and Russia) and other international benchmarks. The aim was to assess investment in research as well as performance nationally and compare it to an international context, as well as identifying issues that could affect research in the future. It is the second such report, prepared by Elsevier, with the first being published back in 2011.

Several key findings relating to the UK’s international performance were noted:

  • The UK is a highly productive research nation. UK research accounts for 11.6% of citations and 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited articles. It is now ranked 1st in field-weighted citation impact, which is an indicator of research quality.
  • UK research is well-rounded and impactful across most major research fields. Research is multidisciplinary, increasingly cited internationally and the UK is a world leader in making its research articles available through a variety of models.
  • The UK is a focal point for global research collaboration and researcher mobility. Researchers collaborate both within the UK and at international scales to produce quality research that has high impact and transfers to wider audiences.
  • The UK exhibits strong cross-sector knowledge exchange. UK research is not limited within its particular discipline; academics are increasingly downloading corporate-authored papers whilst corporate users are increasingly downloading academic articles. Cross sector partnerships, such as between academics and industry, have an integral role in UK research.

With regards to UK environmental science research, the report revealed that based on citation impact, such research ranks first in the world and also outperforms all other UK research fields. This is despite apparent reported shifts of research away from this discipline as well reports finding that research centres that support this type of research, such as the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, are underfunded and suffering in their ability to meet national objectives. In order to ensure that environmental science continues its high impact, appropriate funding and support mechanisms must continue to be in place to enable researchers to undertake high quality research.

Into the future, it is key that the UK research community is supported effectively in order to enable it to remain internationally competitive. Long term planning and investment and making sure that the appropriate inputs are fed into the research system will ensure that high quality, useful and impactful research outputs are generated. Whilst UK research is currently well received and highly regarded internationally, the big challenge for the future is how to ensure that this remains the case.