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Posted 22 December 2009

Independent review shows return on investment for research at UCD

A recent report of independent international reviewers, Evidence Ltd, commissioned by Forfás and the HEA finds Ireland – and UCD – punch above our weight when it comes to research output.

Assessing research activity via publications and their citation performance, the Evidence Report shows that Ireland’s volume of research more than doubled between 1998 and 2007. By comparison, outputs for France, Germany and the UK were roughly level.

According to the Evidence Report, the research base is dominated by UCD, TCD and UCC. “The picture is of a small number of HEIs which support diverse portfolios and have grown rapidly, supported by a network of medium-sized and smaller institutions with niche research.”

Over the past five years the number of papers in all research fields has increased dramatically.  UCD's performance shows a 36.6% increase from 2,861 papers in the period 1998-2002 to 4,510 papers in the period 2003-2007. The number of UCD research papers published in 2007 was 1,079 – double the annual output a decade earlier. Overall, UCD now leads the publications ranking with 7,371 papers published over the ten year period.

Overall, Ireland shows an impressive increase (33%) in terms of research output in 2007 over the pervious 5 years.

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The impact of research is measured in terms of citations per paper – that is, the number of times other researchers reference the research publications in their own outputs.
RCSI leads the Irish HEI sector with an impact of 1.62. UCD’s performance has shown very positive growth of 23% to 1.27 moving it from 6th to 3rd position in the period 2003 – 2007.

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International and national collaboration

International collaboration in Irish universities is rising at a significant rate and at a faster rate than the global pattern. The strongest links are with universities in the UK, the US, Germany and France. Not surprisingly, because China itself has grown so rapidly over the 2003-2007 period, the level of international collaboration between Ireland and China has grown by 83%.

Leaving aside the two universities in Northern Ireland, UCD leads the entire HEI sector in all of the major regions, with the exception of Australia. Naturally, links with UK and US universities are strong, but UCD also shows good integration within the EU, particularly with Germany, France and the Netherlands. Overall, UCD accounts for the single most (22%) international collaborations over the past ten years.

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Looking at the national collaborations, the Evidence Report shows the strength of co-operation between UCD and TCD over the ten year period. 225 papers were published jointly be the two universities with a significant gap to the next nearest collaboration shown to be between RCSI and TCD with 144 joint papers.

Global impact profile

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The Evidence Report goes on to address Ireland’s research impact profile in global terms. The percentage of research publications above the world average is strong at 33% (the US is 37%). More importantly, the percentage of output which is highly cited (meaning at least 4 times the world average) is 6.2%, above the UK at 6.07% and behind the world leader, the US, at 6.8%

“This is a powerful overall contribution to the global research base” claims the Evidence Report and, given the relative size of Ireland, “suggests that the top end of Irish research is well recognised internationally.”

The authors of the report undertook in-depth analysis of the research publications across ten main research areas.

The growth of clinical research is very marked across the entire HEI sector with UCD now topping Queens with 877 papers - an increase of 41.8% in the past five years.  This reflects the key role of the clinical research centres established with the Mater Hospital and St Vincents Hospital and the effective improvements brought about through the Dublin Academic Health Care partnership.

The citation impact over the period remained at 1.21. However, the relative position of UCD moved from joint 6th to 4th.

Health and medical
In the health and medically-related research area, publications grew nationally by 30% and UCD’s output increased by this proportion from 346 to 495 placing the university fourth, alongside Queens, TCD and University of Ulster.

However, the citation impact of UCD’s output grew by 46% to 1.36, which is above the world averaging and placing the university in 2nd position, behind RCSI.

The biological sciences are very active and internationally competitive. UCD published a striking 1,423 papers in the 5-year period and is substantially ahead of the nearest university, UCC which 1,152 papers.

Consequently, UCD’s citation impact has also improved, moving from 1.05 between 1998-2002 to 1.28 between 2003-2007.

The Evidence report points out that environmental research is less than in other sciences. However, given the importance of the area for global sustainability, research over the period showed considerable growth. UCD published 326 papers between 2003 and 2007, an increase of 40% bringing the university closer to research leader, Queens.
Also notable is that the citation impact of the four largest universities in the Republic of Ireland has improved from below to above the world average. UCD’s performance has improved by 19% from 0.92 to 1.11, placing it in 3rd position for the last 5 year period.

The number of mathematics publications can vary erratically from year to year worldwide. In the past five years, UCD’s output has risen by 17%, from 151 to 182 although the citation impact has slipped by almost 30%. NUI Galway in the same period published 252 papers, while the citation impact for TCD has leaped to 2.19.

The report points out the substantial facilities required by the physical sciences to conduct significant research. The number of papers published in the period by UCD was 879 (a 41% increase) placing the university in fourth place.

In terms of citation impact, UCD has shown a marked improvement, rising 60% to 1.83, placing the university in a clear leadership position across the island of Ireland.

In engineering UCD again leads the seven universities in the Republic of Ireland, with 713 publications, an increase of 52% over the previous five years.

According to the Evidence report, bibliometric impact is agreed generally to be only a weak indicator of performance in engineering research and many of the Irish HEIs vary around the world average, a pattern seen internationally where many engineering units have a mixed pure and applied portfolio. In the 5 year period, UCD’s citation impact has slipped from 1.18 to 0.91.

Social sciences & humanities
There is a change occurring in publishing culture across Europe which is affecting social sciences and humanities. The use of journal literature is becoming much more widespread as a primary mode for disseminating new research outcomes rather than reports.

Social sciences
UCD’s strength in the social sciences means that it continues to dominate research output in the Republic and is rapidly gaining on the Northern Ireland universities. In the 5-year period 2003-2007 UCD published 246 papers, an increase of over 25%.

UCD is the only university on the island with a citation impact (of 1.06), above the world average. This reflects an improvement of 33% in the past 5-year period.

According to the Evidence report, “UCD has clearly affirmed its lead on output,” in business research across the island of Ireland. In the 5 year period, UCD published 141 papers, an increase of almost 30%, with Queens in 2nd place with 90 publications.

Citation impact, as expected, is also up almost 30% to 1.06, again above the world average.

Arts & humanities
In the arts and humanities, the Evidence report stresses that journal publication should not be regarded as an important performance indicator because the publication pattern in these areas uses a much wider range of modes, including books and non-print media. Within this category UCD again tops the ROI universities with 180 publications.

Citation impact in these areas comes with a caveat from the writers of the Evidence Report, who add that “nonetheless, for interest, it is noteworthy that Irish HEIs are generally on an upward trend.”


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Independent review shows return on investment for research at UCD