[SANTIAGO] Research output in Latin America and the Caribbean is rising but still lags behind the global average, according to a ranking of nearly 1,400 Ibero-American research institutions released last week (10 May).
Higher education institutions (HEIs) in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, in descending order, produced the greatest scientific output in the region in the period 2005–09, followed by Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba.
Brazil dominates the research scene, with around 163,000 scientific publications — 92 per cent of which came from the higher-education sector. Among the region's ten most productive universities, seven are Brazilian, led by the University of São Paulo.
The survey, by the Spanish Scimago Institutions Rankings (SIR) project, weighs the scientific output, collaboration rate, impact and ratio of documents published in prestigious journals of all HEIs in Latin America and the Caribbean, Portugal and Spain. This year's edition includes all HEIs that published at least one scientific document indexed in the Scopus bibliographic database between 2005 and 2009.
The 2011 ranking is the second in the series, following its launch last year. It includes results from more than twice as many institutions as the previous edition, and from 42 countries rather than 28.
The rankings also include HEIs in the region that publish more than 100 research papers a year, according to Felix de Moya, lead researcher for the SIR.
The data show that problems observed in the previous ranking still persist: research is concentrated in a few top universities and, although scientific output is growing fast — the second fastest in the world after Asia —it is still just four per cent of the world's total, according to de Moya. The impact rate of most of the research by HEIs in the region is below the global average.
Research output still lacks visibility, says the report, with only six per cent of institutions matching or exceeding the global citation average — and an equally low proportion manage to publish half their scientific output in prestigious journals.
Some 148 universities did manage to publish more than 100 scientific articles in the world's most influential journals, compared with 130 such institutions three years ago, said de Moya.
But the percentage of the region's scientific papers published in the 25 leading scientific journals appears to be decreasing because the ranking system has increased the number of regional journals it includes, he added.
"Most of the research output comes from a few universities because they receive most of the research funds," he said. "For example, in Brazil, research funds are too concentrated in the state of São Paulo."
One reason why the region's scientific output is so small, said de Moya, is because of the small size of its internationally active research community and the small percentage of GDP devoted to research.
In Chile, two universities founded just a couple of decades ago — Universidad Andrés Bello and Universidad del Desarrollo — now appear in the rankings, the latter being rated among the top large research universities in the country.