New report benchmarks European collaboration and mobility against US

By Professor Paul Boyle, President, Science Europe, International Champion, Research Councils UK. Chief Executive, Economic and Social Research Council.

Today sees the launch of a new report comparing researcher collaboration and mobility within Europe and the United States. The analysis is produced by Elsevier, at the request of Science Europe, and provides a valuable benchmarking exercise. It is well-recognised that the global nature of research is growing rapidly and this, combined with the European Commission’s drive to increase collaboration across the European Research Area (ERA), makes it timely to compare how researchers collaborate and move about within these two global ‘regions’. The report is available at on the Science Europe website.

This study provides much needed evidence on researcher collaboration and mobility. The ERA needs to be built on trust and robust systems which support research funders, performers and administrators to create a space for great research to happen.  This flexible and innovative system needs time to evolve and we recognise that there is still more work to be done, but progress is steady.

In this report, Elsevier looks at the 41 countries in Europe which directly contributed to Framework Programme 7 (the 27 Member States plus 14 Associated Countries) as well as all 50 US states. The researcher populations are broadly similar at approximately 1.64 million for Europe and 1.47 million for the US. For the purposes of the study, which uses data up to 2011, a European country is treated as similar to a US state; a somewhat blunt comparison but the first of its kind and one which provides some useful insights into the process of researcher collaboration and mobility.

Much of the report corroborates widely accepted views, but there are some findings which provide good evidence for Europe’s success – past, present and future – as a research leader. For example in 2011, Europe produced 33.4% of the world’s research outputs, while the US accounted for 23.4% and this gap is growing. The 13% of papers involving collaborators in more than one European country was quite similar to the 16% of papers involving collaborators in more than one US state, and inter-country collaboration in Europe is growing (2003-2011) while inter-state collaboration over the same period in the US fell slightly. It would appear that national and pan-European collaboration mechanisms are working. However, US researchers are more likely to collaborate with researchers outside their own region (30%) compared to European researchers (23%).

There are also some interesting findings relating to mobility, showing that while US researchers are more likely to relocate between states than European researchers are between countries, the impact of this mobility is strikingly different between regions. For example European countries with the highest citation impact, such as Switzerland, tend to show lower percentages of ‘sedentary’ researchers while the US states with the highest citation impact, such as California and Massachusetts, tend to show higher percentages of ‘sedentary’ researchers.