Fredrik Piro and Gunnar Sivertsen, researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU), were project managers for the new report (Photo: BR Media).
Danes most cited among Nordic researchers
Denmark is “the best of the Nordics” with a national citation index 27 per cent higher than the world average, while the indices of Sweden and Iceland are 13 and 11 per cent above the global average, respectively.
The report lists the citation indices for Norway and Finland as eight and five per cent above average, respectively. Although Norwegian research groups lag slightly behind their Nordic counterparts, they can boast the best progress in the period from 2000 to 2008. In Finland, which also lags behind somewhat, the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital raised the average for the 15 Finnish institutions included in the report.
Bibliometrics brings out the details
In 2008 NordForsk established a NORIA-net comprised of Nordic experts in bibliometrics, a field that analyses literature and authorship based on statistical criteria. The network has previously published two reports, on Nordic research cooperation and bibliometric research indicators. On Monday 23 May, during a seminar in Copenhagen, the NORIA-net presented a third report that applies bibliometric methods to compare research at Nordic universities.
The researchers responsible for the report performed in-depth analyses of data available from sources such as the Thomson Reuters Science Citation Index and the Web of Science – resulting in a report that provides more insight into Nordic research than do the annual status rankings from organisations such as Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking and QS World University Ranking. The report encompasses a total of 40 Nordic universities and 23 university hospitals, each with at least 200 fractionalised publications in the period 2005-2009.
“There are many international rankings of research results, but they are based on different criteria and yield widely varying results,” explained project manager Fredrik Piro in his presentation of the report. “As for which university tops the rankings, it greatly depends on the data one chooses to accentuate. This is why we have not focused on rankings in our report, but rather on compiling research profiles.” Dr Piro is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU).
Reveals major differences
“I was amazed at the major differences this report has revealed,” said Staffan Karlsson, who heads the Swedish Research Council’s unit for statistics and analysis, when he presented some of the report’s findings. One of these is that in terms of conventional international rankings, the “middle-of-the-pack” universities can climb or drop substantially from one year to the next – due solely to statistical chance, not to any real change in their quality.
Mr Karlsson noted that Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark all made a strong showing in the report with close to 40 per cent more citations than the global average. The impressive Danish results remained stable throughout the period 2000-2008.
The largest are best
Half of Finland’s universities and university hospitals were actually below the world average, but the University of Helsinki and its associated Helsinki University Central Hospital were cited 18 and 14 per cent above the average, respectively, raising the Finnish national average. This typifies a general finding of the report: large universities tend to be cited more often. In addition, scientific articles with international co-authorship yield more citations than articles authored exclusively by researchers from one nation.
The National University Hospital of Iceland came out well with a citation rate 38 per cent above the world average. The University of Iceland demonstrated marked improvement from the period 2000-2004 to the period 2005-2008. The university began the new millennium at 13 per cent below the world average but jumped 18 percentage points to finish five per cent above the average.
Consistent in Norway, variable in Sweden
The bibliometric study shows that the Norwegian universities perform very similarly to one another: all but one placed between two and 11 per cent above the average. The University of Stavanger (formerly Stavanger University College) was 25 per cent below the average, perhaps due in part to only recently (in 2004) attaining university status.
Swedish universities varied greatly in comparison with one another, and significant fluctuations occurred over the eight years encompassed by the study. “All the university hospitals in Sweden showed progress, while the weakest universities showed a decline. The best are becoming better,” concluded Mr Karlsson.
“Look to Denmark”
After the report was presented, a panel debate was held, headed by Ola Stave, Secretary General of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions. The panellists and many in the audience were concerned with the same question: The report provides a detailed overview of research in the Nordic countries, but what can it be used for? “Should we, for example, strengthen the top research environments, or save the weakest?” asked Deputy Director of Aarhus University Ole Olsen.
Bjørn Haugstad, Director of Research at the University of Oslo, said that after thoroughly examining the report he accepts the findings, unflattering as they may be to the Norwegians. He also referred to the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which have made top-ranking Finland an example for how to develop the Norwegian school system. “Now we know we can look to Denmark for inspiration when it comes to research,” said Dr Haugstad with a wink.
A good start
“This is a good start in using bibliometrics to assess Nordic research,” said NordForsk Director Gunnel Gustafsson to BR Media in summarising the seminar. “This report primarily addresses the universities, but it was said at the seminar today that bibliometric indicators can also be applied elsewhere. It would be very interesting to develop them in order to, for instance, examine the impact that funding for Nordic research cooperation has had on the Nordic research groups receiving such funding. We should also remember that research is a matter of long-term investment,” she added. “The Danish success documented in this report may perhaps be traced back to something the Danes did right many years ago.”
The researchers who compiled the report stress that it does not provide an exhaustive account of research quality in the Nordic countries. The report is based on an analysis of research data for the period 2000-2009 in Web of Science, whose database contains articles from roughly 11 500 international scientific journals. The social sciences and humanities were excluded from this study, however, because the very different nature of their fields and methods precludes direct comparison with the other disciplines.
Text image 2: Participants in the Nordic network of bibliometrics experts have submitted their third report. Among its findings is that Danish researchers are in the world’s elite when it comes to citation rates.
Text image 3: Ola Stave, Secretary General of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions, led a panel debate featuring (from left): Ulla-Maija Forsberg, First Vice-Rector of the University of Helsinki; Bjørn Haugstad, Director of Research at the University of Oslo; Ole Olsen, Deputy Director of Aarhus University; and Folke Snickars, Dean of Faculty at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Text and photo: Bjarne Røsjø, BR Media