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University of Copenhagen
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Nordic record: UCPH the 'most published' in prestigious journals

Analysis — Researchers from the University of Copenhagen get more articles published in the two most important scientific journals Nature and Science than their Nordic colleagues. Does this mean that the University of Copenhagen is the best university in the Nordic region?

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) can say it is the unofficial Nordic champion in the difficult discipline of getting scientific results published in the exclusive journals Science and Nature.

This is according to an analysis, which UCPH has carried out itself, based on data from the international database Web of Science in the period 2013 to 2016. Researchers from UCPH have been authors or co-authors of 511 scientific articles in Science and Nature including their subsidiary journals during the period. Number two on the list is the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm with 358 articles and number 3 is Uppsala University with 256 articles.

In Denmark, Aarhus University is number two with 214 publications, while the Technical University of Denmark DTU is number 3 with 158.

“The University of Copenhagen is thereby the Nordic region’s most important institution in the field of natural and health sciences,” UCPH writes on its website.

TOP 15 among the Nordic countries

University of Copenhagen: 511 articles

Karolinska Instituttet: 358

Uppsala University: 256

University of Helsinki: 222

Aarhus University: 214

Lund University: 197

Stockholm University: 170

University of Oslo: 159

Technical University of Denmark: 158

University of Bergen: 123

University of Gothenberg: 113

Norwegian University of Science and Technology: 83

KTH: 74

Aalto University: 74

Chalmers University of Technology: 59

Prorector: UCPH in front

According to Thomas Bjørnholm, Prorector for Research and Innovation, this shows that the University of Copenhagen is at the forefront of research.

“Our reputation as a player among players in the global knowledge economy depends on our visibility, and it is important here to publish in the best journals. It’s our market value as a university, and this means that we can attract the best research talents and new external funding, thereby making for an even more attractive research environment,” he says.

Thomas Bjørnholm reckons that it is the systematic investment in ‘beacons’ of research and in top international talent supported by key foundations like the Danish National Research Foundation and private foundations, which is now starting to take affect.

“We can see that it is the frontrunners that are dragging us up into the international elite, so it is now all about getting the other researchers included,” he says.

Placing dependent on method

Whether UCPH is the best university in the Nordic region depends on how you do the calculation.

Several international rankings compare the world’s universities each year, and choose who the winners and losers are.The University of Copenhagen itself refers on its website to the QS World University Rankings, THE World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities – Shanghai, the Leiden Ranking and Europe’s Most Innovative Universities – Reuters.

This means that we can attract the best research talents and new external funding, thereby making for an even more attractive research environment

Thomas Bjørnholm. Prorector for Research and Innovation, University of Copenhagen

If you look at the Leiden rankings, which focus primarily on the university’s research publication in the areas that they each focus on, UCPH is ranked number 30 in the world and number one in the Nordic region. Swedish Karolinska is number 2 with 79th place.

According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which compares universities more widely on the basis of education, research, citation, international outlook and collaboration with the private sector, Karolinska is best among the Nordic countries with a 28th place in the world rankings in 2016.

Here UCPH is only number 6 in Scandinavia – 120 in the world – and is surpassed by Karolinska, Helsinki, Uppsala, Lund and Aarhus University, which is number 98.

UCPH nosedive on international rankings – consequence of government cuts

The Danish miracle

If you are only looking at how well a university does in terms of international research, the most common measure is citation numbers. That is, how many times has a researchers’ scientific articles been used as references in other researchers’ publications.

Danish research is remarkably good, according to international studies. So good that there has even been talk of a Danish miracle.

Nordic praise for ‘Danish miracle’ in research impact

If you take the size of Denmark into account, the country is in second place based on the number of citations concludes a report by the world-renowned Swedish professor of plant physiology Gunnar Öquist.

He points to Denmark as an example that the rest of the Nordic countries should learn from.

“Scientific quality is promoted through stability and long-term national funding structures, as well as academic leadership that deliberately and firmly manages with world-class quality in mind,” he writes in the report.

And to he has stated:

“Over the last 20 years, increasing numbers of Danish researchers have had international breakthroughs, partly because more attention has been paid to the elite. The most talented Danish researchers and those who get outstanding ideas have been rewarded with larger funding and this has increased the quality of their results.”

The Ministry counts articles

Danish researchers not only have more citations in the world, they also produce significantly more research articles today than 20 years ago.

This is linked to the fact that the Ministry of Research introduced the so-called Bibliometric Research Indicator (BFI) in 2009.

The system means that each publication type – articles in journals, entire books or chapters in books – equates with a certain number of points, depending on whether the journal or publisher is considered central in the subject areas – the so-called impact factor.

There has been much criticism of the bibliometry and its method of calculation. The system, for example, promotes quantity over quality, and humanities research fares worse because it is published more at a national level and more often publishes larger books and works.

In this way, they reward the most recognized publishers and the most prestigious journals.

When comparing Danish universities based on the bibliometry numbers, UCPH does not perform well. Aarhus University is number 1 with 5,284 points and 4,604 publications in 2016.

UCPH, which got 2,710 points for 2,369 publications, is surpassed by Aalborg University and the Technical University of Denmark DTU, and is at the level of the University of Southern Denmark.

See the data here.

Rewarded to publish

Since 2010, 25 per cent of universities’ basic funding – the grant they receive for operations, wages and buildings on the national budget – has been distributed on the basis of bibliometry.

The principle is that the more research publications a university produces, the more money it receives.

The universities therefore have good economic reasons to get researchers to publish as much as possible, as they otherwise lose money.

Criticism of indicator

There has been much criticism of the bibliometry and its method of calculation. The system, for example, promotes quantity rather than quality.

Humanities research fares worse than, say, the natural sciences because more is published in a national context. And when it is, it is often in the form of large books that take a long time to write but which are not rewarded with an equal number of points.

The system also has researchers using the salami method to publish, sharing their research in small slices, with each slice published separately.

Top journals losing influence

A large study made by a team of researchers from the University of Montreal has now questioned the importance of getting into Science and Nature in the first place.

They reviewed 25 million articles and 820 million citations and concluded that 45 per cent of the articles with the most citations were published in the journals with the highest impact factor in 1990. In 2009, the proportion had dropped to 36 per cent.

If you are a researcher that wants to be noticed by your colleagues, your path to esteem does not necessarily go via the frontpage of Nature.

According to the study, the reason is that more and more research today is freely available on the Internet.