Measurements of success
11. The foregoing statements regarding the UK's current
position are primarily based upon bibliometric studies. There
are, however, many ways of measuring the success of international
activities ranging from focusing upon the inputs (eg. money invested),
to focusing upon the level of activity (eg. number of projects
or number of people involved), to focusing upon the outputs (eg.
number of publications or number of citations).
There are often problems with the accuracy of some of these measurements.
It is difficult to gather true data relating to international
activity because relationships are often developed and maintained
at a researcher-to-researcher level without support from, or reference
to, formal mechanisms such as those run by the Research Councils.
Furthermore, it is difficult to quantify the substantive value
of visiting fellowships or travel grants. In relation to the high-level
visits that he undertakes to other countries, Professor Sir Keith
O'Nions, Director General of Science and Innovation, told us that
"It is very difficult to quantify the value of visits, but
you know how much you lose if you do not make them."
12. The statistics quoted by the different Research
Councils demonstrate that they do not have a consistent approach
to measuring their performance in relation to international activities.
MRC, for example, referred to the number of people involved in
projects, telling us that of approximately 950 current active
research grants to University-based researchers, about one third
report international co-applicants or collaborators.
In contrast, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) focused
upon publications stating that approximately 38% of ISI (Thomson
Scientific) publications arising from NERC funding in 2005 had
one or more overseas co-authors.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
employed another approach, concentrating primarily upon the money
that it had invested in various international schemes.
13. The Royal Society and FCO both criticise the
Research Councils for the lack of information that they gather
regarding their international activities. The Royal Society argues
that "Many of the RCs [Research Councils] lack mechanisms
for recording information about international collaboration, and
it is therefore difficult to quantify the amount of international
collaboration which they support."
The FCO states that "it can be difficult to obtain comprehensive
data on the amount of collaborative funding the UK has with a
14. In relation to this lack of information, Professor
Sir Keith O'Nions told us that:
Research Councils do not [
] at the present
time systematically collect data on international collaboration
that is funded by them. [...] the Research Councils are considering
developing a common approach to the collection of information
regarding the international dimension of funded research. The
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will continue
to work with the Councils in developing such an approach.
believe that it is important for the UK to be able to assess its
position and measure its success with regard to international
collaboration and international research relationships. We recommend
that the Research Councils and the Department for Innovation,
Universities and Skills work together to develop common mechanisms
for the systematic collection of data on international collaborations
and to develop ways of assessing their performance in this field.