Wales Punching above Its Weight in Research Field; A Report Published This Month by Elsevier Found Researchers in Wales Are Performing above the UK Average and Productivity Is Better Than in Most Countries of a Similar Size. Professor Peter Halligan, Head of Strategic Futures at Higher Education Wales, Highlights the Positive Strides Being Made in Wales

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Halligan

WALES is a small, ambitious country with a strong and growing international research base, much of which is not fully recognised in Wales, the UK or internationally.

Several media reports over the past five years have suggested that Welsh research does not perform as well as other UK countries or countries of a similar size.


Underlying these reports is the inevitable comparison with historically stronger regions of the UK and a tendency to focus on research income - all of which tends to present a misleading and one-sided picture of Welsh research.

Since devolution, however, Wales has lacked a comprehensive national/international benchmarking of its research performance, relying instead on the relative proportional share of competitive UK Research Council income and/or the fiveyearly results from the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) to demonstrate the quality of its research. While clearly important, both fail to provide a comprehensive overview of the sector's research productivity and efficiency compared to similar-sized countries. Funding from the UK research councils comprises only about 21% of all Welsh university research income, and the RAE assessment samples a selective number of research outputs (typically four per staff member) over the five-year period estimated to cover a quarter of the total of indexed UK peer reviewed published articles.

To secure an authoritative, comparative snapshot of Wales' research base, Welsh universities in partnership with Hefcw and Welsh Government commissioned Elsevier, one of the world's leading providers of scientific and medical information services in 2013, to produce an independent, evidence-based analysis of Wales' research activity and relative research impact compared to international comparators over the past 15 years, using a wide-range of internationally-accepted input and output research indices.

Last week, the report findings were launched at the Senedd. A unique aspect of this Elsevier report was the ability to directly compare Wales' performance with different countries.

Simply comparing countries by total volume of publications makes little sense when trying to benchmark research quality, as larger countries with more researchers, publications and greater funding typically appear better.

By linking research output productivity to economic metrics and relating these to measures of relevant relativised research inputs, the Elsevier report provided compelling evidence for the benefits of public investment in university research in Wales and also the strong position that Welsh research holds both within the UK and internationally.

The report found that the performance of Welsh research is among the top of the world's leading small research nations. …