Australia wins the Olympics of research productivity

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New report finds a series of barriers standing in the way of universities bringing their ideas to the market.

By U2B Staff 

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The G20 is made up of the world’s most innovative countries. Each has recognised the importance of innovation and research in maintaining their positions as the most prosperous economies in the world and have invested accordingly to ensure they remain ahead of the curve.

The G20 nations spend an impressive 92 percent of global research and development (R&D), despite only representing 65 percent of world population. They also employ 87 percent of the world’s researchers and publish 70 percent of global research papers.

But there is one country that stands out in its approach to research and the results it produces.


In a new report from Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information, Australia is recognised, not only as the most productive when it comes to research and innovation, but also the most efficient in research spending. The report gives each G20 nation a scorecard based on a number of criteria, including publications, citations, international collaboration, and research funding.

At the heart of Australia’s success is international collaboration. As papers written exclusively by domestic authors start to dwindle, the number and quality of overseas partnerships is soaring.

The report found 17.5 percent of Australia’s internationally co-authored studies were in the top 10 percent most cited papers in their discipline.

This compares to a 17.4 percent strike rate for the UK, 16.6 percent for Canada and Italy, 16.5 percent for the US and 16.2 percent for Germany.

When it comes to domestic written papers, Australian researchers fall to second place behind the UK, with 14 percent of articles among the top 10 percent for citations.

The country also has the best return on investment when it comes to research funding. For every US$1 million invested in Australia research, the country produces 3.5 research papers, making it the most productive of any large developed country. In comparison, both the UK and South Africa produce three, and the United States only turns out one.

The government’s big push in research innovation is obviously paying off as Australia’s research output has almost doubled in just eight years. The number of papers has risen from 40,000 in 2009 to nearly 80,000 in 2017.

It’s not just in Australia where international collaborations are paying off. All countries with more than half of research papers coming from overseas partnerships have impacts above the G20 average, the report found. The only exception is Indonesia.


Countries that have remained more domestically-focused in authoring papers are suffering for it. In host nation Japan, for example, output of research papers has remained fairly consistent over the last ten years, barely increasing and with a small proportion of highly cited papers. Less than one-third of papers were done with an international co-author.

While Australia may be the most productive, it falls behind the bigger countries in terms of overall output. In top spot for the amount produced is the United States, followed by China, the UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, and India.

The US produced over 4.4 million Web of Science-indexed papers over the decade compared to China’s 2.7 million, the UK’s 1.3 million and Australia’s 620,000.