International collaborations taking a hit around the world
Collaborations among researchers – domestic/international, intra-/interdisciplinary – are essential to enhance, support, and conduct science with ease. Whether it is the pooling of funding resources or domain-specific expertise, collaborations have been a mainstay in recent decades. With the world connected better through technology, international collaborations have been the norm. According to a paper published by Nature in January 2022, between 1998 and 2018, more than 5,00,000 research papers published annually are written by researchers from at least two different countries.1
However, lately, collaborations between some nations have been suffering. Here’s an overview of what’s been happening.
The United States and China
According to recent study conducted by Elsevier using millions of papers registered with Scopus, over the past three years, there has been a decline of more than 20% in the number of Chinese and US authors declaring their affiliations to foreign institutes/authors.2 The number of US–China collaborative research papers dropped from over 15,000 in 2018 to less than 12,500 in 2021.
This finding comes almost a year after a study found a drop for the first time in collaborations between the US and China, and two years of extensive collaborations around the world through virtual connectivity amidst COVID-induced restrictions.3
Strict COVID-lockdown measures in China and the prevailing political tension between the two superpowers are said to be the primary reasons for this trend. The decline could also be a consequence of the US’s China Initiative policy (now discontinued) to curb espionage cases in businesses and research. The policy came into effect in November 2018 but its consequences might be reflecting now, a few years later. The policy brought many Chinese researchers living in the US or Americans with a Chinese lineage under the US government’s radar, discouraging Chinese authors from teaming up with the US institutions/authors.
On the other hand, China’s policy updates have been affecting collaborations with foreign bodies. In 2020, as part of a policy update to change evaluation criteria, it encouraged Chinese researchers to publish in Chinese journals. In March this year, it tightened rules for genetic research, banning the export of genetic information to foreign researchers and organizations. In May this year, citing precautionary measures against COVID as the reason, it cancelled the AP exams, a way for students to apply to global universities for higher education. In the same month, three universities withdrew from participation in international rankings. These actions even led to speculations that China is creating its own higher education bubble and loosening its ties with international institutions.
Russia and the rest of the world
Since the beginning of the Russia–Ukraine war earlier this year, a part of the global scientific community has called for a complete ban on collaborations with Russian scientists. Some of Elsevier’s journals have even temporarily stopped accepting submissions from Russian authors, and databases such as Scopus and Web of Science have stopped accepting applications.4 Though a lot of support poured in for the Russian scientific community, who asked the pro-ban community not to isolate Russia’s scientists, the ban and the hesitation to collaborate with Russians has adversely affected international collaborations.5 The Russian government’s moves, like barring Russian academics from attending international conferences and stopping indexing their publications in international journals6 have isolated the Russian research community further.
United Kingdom and Europe
Brexit has left UK researchers in an uncertain and vulnerable position. Within three years of Brexit, an unusual number of EU researchers had left the country as per the data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency.7 Additionally, with the UK almost out of Europe’s largest funding program (Horizon 2020, followed by Horizon Europe),8 there is always an uncertainty lurking whether funds will be granted or not within a joint project, leaving most EU researchers hesitant about collaborating with researchers from the UK.
1. Fu, Y.C., Marques, M., Tseng, YH. et al. An evolving international research collaboration network: spatial and thematic developments in co-authored higher education research, 1998–2018. Scientometrics 127, 1403–1429 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-021-04200-w
2. Noorden, R. The number of researchers with dual US–China affiliations is falling. Nature. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01492-7
3. Wagner, C., Jonkers, K. Open countries have strong science. Nature 550, 32–33 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/550032a
4. Else, H. Ukrainian researchers pressure journals to boycott Russian authors. Nature 603, 559 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00718-y
5. Dacher, P. The CNRS suspends all new forms of scientific collaboration with Russia. Cnrs. March 2022. https://www.cnrs.fr/en/cnrs-suspends-all-new-forms-scientific-collaboration-russia
5. Havergal, C. UK cuts most Russian research ties and funds Ukrainian refugees. Times Higher Education. March 2022. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/uk-cuts-most-russian-research-ties-and-funds-ukrainian-refugees
5. Notice concerning research collaboration with Russia. National Science Centre. March 2022. https://ncn.gov.pl/en/aktualnosci/2022-03-24-wspolpraca-z-rosja
5. Pultarova, T. CERN pauses future research collaboration with Russia at Ukrainian scientists' request. Space.com. March 2022. https://www.space.com/cern-stops-future-russia-cooperation-ukraine-protest
6. Lem, P. Russia bars academics from international conferences. Times Higher Education. March 2022. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/russia-bars-academics-international-conferences#:~:text=Russia's%20government%20has%20barred%20its,of%20Science%20and%20Higher%20Education.
7. Zimmer, K. How Brexit Is Transforming the UK’s STEM Community. TheScientist. November 2021. https://www.the-scientist.com/careers/brexit-s-effects-on-the-uk-stem-community-69316
8. MacGregor, K. UK universities on brink of losing Horizon research and funding. University World News. May 2022. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20220519103543836
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