Public Release: 

Spanish university scientific production has almost doubled in the last decade

Carlos III University of Madrid

This news release is available in Spanish.

The publication of scientific articles by Spanish university researchers has grown by 104.24 percent in the last decade, despite there being no significant increase in the number of professors during the same period. This data comes from the University Research, Development and Innovation annual report, recently published by the Observatorio IUNE, part of Alianza 4U, from the Universitat Autónoma and Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and Universidad Autónoma and Universidad Carlos III in Madrid.

This year, the IUNE Observatory has updated the R+D+I indicators in order to show the SUE (Spanish University System) research activity. In this fourth edition, information from the period 2004-2013 has been analyzed and updated information relating to seventy four universities is presented by means of forty seven indicators, many of them disaggregated by means of subject area. For the first time, IUNE 2015 includes new images with text summaries linked to a general report of the universities' activities in the last decade. Additionally, a section with reports relating to co-authorship and hyper-authorship, organized by academic field, has been added.

In general terms, the data presented by the IUNE Observatory shows that, despite stalled growth in the number of researchers over recent years, production in Web of Science (one of the main database on world-wide scientific production) has continued to grow. This represents a remarkable increase in productivity over the last decade from 0.42 documents per researcher in 2004, to 0.77 in 2013.

Growth by autonomous region and academic field

The scientific work of the universities in each autonomous region has developed in line with the universities' surroundings; consequently, the highest levels of production continue to be seen in Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia. It is also important to highlight the fact that Galicia and the Basque Country, despite their smaller size, have shown significant growth in the last decade. In smaller regions, production tends to be more discrete and seems to have reached the limit of its structural capacity in recent years; this is certainly the case in Extremadura and La Rioja.

In relation to academic fields, we can see that the area with the greatest growth in research activity at university level continues to be Experimental Sciences (EXP), Medicine (MED) and Engineering (ENG), which show virtually identical patterns. However, in Life Sciences (BIO), although growth levels have been similar to those in the two previously mentioned fields, the target of 10,000 annual publications has still not been reached. Furthermore, production in both Social Sciences (SOC) and Arts and Humanities (ART-HUM) has failed to increase over the last three years.

More collaborative and international science

Collaboration among authors, institutions and countries shows a growing trend in the area of university research. There is evidence of this, for example, in the level of co-authorship of publications. During the period studied, collaborations between authors have risen from an average of seven authors per document in 2004, to seventeen in 2013. At the same time, in 2004, 35% of the documents published by Spanish universities involved international collaboration, with that figure increasing to 44% in 2013; the level of national collaboration has held steady, around 29%, throughout this whole period. At country level, Spanish universities have collaborated mainly with institutions in the USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy

During the same decade, 3,657 patents have been awarded to universities; this represents growth of 165% between 2004 and 2013. Another interesting indicator is the competitiveness that has been measured through the number of projects at both the national level (Plan Nacional), and the European level (EU Framework Programs). Projects at the national level have been decreasing steadily, especially since 2009. On the other hand, European Union projects remained steady in terms of volume until 2009; since then, they have shown a steady increase up to 60%. "The behavior observed with respect to competitiveness can be understood as a reflection of the pattern of research activity of the Spanish universities which, in recent years, due to the economic crisis and consequent spending cuts suffered in the scientific programs, they have had to focus the search for funding beyond national borders," explained UC3M Professor Elías Sanz Casado, researcher who coordinates this study.

Finally, the report cautions that there has been a considerable decline in funding for grants for pre-doctoral training, especially in the FPU (University Faculty Training). However, the number of dissertations submitted has continued to grow. This can be explained if we consider that many graduate students are from overseas and have grants from their countries and institutions of origin. Even so, the question of how will impact the decrease in predoctoral contracts on the number of dissertations submitted in the coming years remains open.

Indicators by university

As in previous editions, the IUNE Observatory has maintained one of its most distinguished aspects: information is analyzed separately for each public and private university. Faithful to its philosophy, it continues to use official information from sources such as the INE (the National Institute of Statistics), MECD (the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport), MINECO (the Ministry of Finance and Competitiveness), OEPM (the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office) and CDTI (the Centre for Industrial Development). In this new edition, data relating to sexenios (six year periods of outside assessment of research activity obtained from the MECD) has been updated, along with innovation data obtained from the RedOTRI - which has resumed its annual survey of universities. The IUNE Observatory, supported by the Alianza 4U, continues for one more year to provide valuable information in order to analyze the development of the SUE.


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