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[BOGOTA] Four countries in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region account for almost 90 per cent of university science, according to a study released last week (1 June).

But almost half of the universities in the region do not produce scientific research at all, according to an author of the survey, which recorded the output of the region's nearly 500 higher education institutes.

Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile — in that order — are the leaders in scientific productivity, according to the SCImago Institutions Rankings (SIR 2010), which surveyed the output of universities in the LAC region, Portugal and Spain.

The study — released to coincide with a meeting, in Guadalajara, Mexico, of more than 1,000 university principals from LAC countries, Portugal and Spain— found that two universities from Brazil (Sao Paulo University and Campinas State University) and one from Mexico (the Autonomous National University of Mexico) are the most scientifically productive universities.

They produced 38,000, 15,000 and 17,000 scientific articles, respectively, from 2003 to 2008. A university in Puerto Rico and one in Colombia reached the top 30.

The survey, conducted by researchers from Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Spain, considered those universities that have published at least one scientific article in any of the 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific journals reported in science publisher Elsevier's scientific database, Scopus.

It used both quantitative and qualitative indicators: scientific productivity, international collaboration and scientific quality, measured by the ratio of the number of citations of a university's papers to the world average and the number of publications that reach the top 25 per cent of journals.

Only five universities, all from Brazil, displayed a higher number of citations than the world average.

"LAC, as well as the Asiatic region, is rapidly growing in scientific productivity," said Felix de Moya, a research professor at State Agency Council for Scientific Research, Spain, CSIC (Spain), who led the survey.

"But it's not the same when it comes to the quality of the obtained results, measured using the average number of citations per published articles. This has to do with reputation, communications and, most of all, resources."

"It is a surprise that almost half of the universities do not do science," said Atilio Bustos, a member of the Scimago Research Group from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso, in Chile.

"Every university should publish at least 20 scientific articles per year," he added.

Mario Albornoz, international coordinator of the Network on Science and Technology Indicators at the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators (RICYT), supported the survey, but said that it aggregates five years of data, which "may hide interesting phenomena in a region with strong changes such as Latin America.

"In particular, small institutions with relatively strong growth in this period may be damaged in the general ranking when the movement is not registered. It is better to show tendencies, such as the ups and downs of the scientific productivity."

Link to full survey [948kB]