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One country wins top 31 spots in global science survey

RESEARCHERS WHO gathered data on the fastest-rising science schools in the world found that the top 31 all came from just one country: China.  

“Out of the top 50 fastest-rising institutions, just 10 were from other countries or regions,” said the researchers at Nature, the world’s top academic science journal. The new study was published on June 16, 2022. Full details and tables are here.

The stunning results “could be a sign that the Chinese government’s long-term investments in science are beginning to bear fruit,” the journal said.

They’re not kidding. The data shows an extraordinary acceleration in Chinese scientists’ ability to get published in the most discriminating publications. The survey is based on a complex ranking system called the Nature Index, which tracks author affiliations in research articles across 82 high-quality science journals.

But despite its fast growth, China is still lagging behind the leader. Overall, the United States retains the top position worldwide on points, the researchers said. China is in second place.

Yet the lead has narrowed. US figures showed a 6.2 per cent fall in the latest annual count, which compares 2021 to 2020. China saw 14.4 per cent growth in the same period.

Jiangsu University, in Zhejiang Province, a three-hour ride from Shanghai, saw the fastest rise in published scientists, with 118 per cent growth in a year. Image: Jiangsu University.

To comment on the results, the researchers contacted Miguel Lim, an education researcher in Manchester, UK, specializing in Chinese higher education data. “There’s been a steady and enormous increase in research funding [in China] and it’s taken time to percolate through, but I think that’s what we’re starting to see,” he said.

China started spending big on science in 1995, with a focus on investing in 100 universities seen as having the potential to develop world class research capacity. This led to the creation of the C9 league, which Nature says is “often described as China’s answer to the Ivy League group of eight prestigious universities in the eastern United States”.

But Chinese scientists enjoyed a further boost five years ago. The “Double First-Class Initiative”, launched in 2017, had experts steer funding to universities with the potential to be first class as research schools, as well as being first class in specific disciplines. Professors were given assurances that the funding would continue until 2050.

That long-term thinking is key. Funding is consistent and dependable, Hamish Coates, director of higher-education research at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the researchers. “That sends a message that the government understands how science is done,” he said.

Image at the top by Diane Serik on Unsplash

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