An image of the Welsh flag.

Today sees the publication of ‘A Performance-based Assessment of the Welsh Research Base’, which looks at the research produced by Welsh universities, partnerships and other institutions between 2010 and 2018.

The review was commissioned by Professor Peter Halligan, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, and carried out by Elsevier, an international information analytics company.

The report shows that over the last 20 years, Wales has boosted the volume, quality, and international reach of its research base to become one of the most efficient UK nations at converting relatively small levels of funding into highly-regarded and innovative research.

Despite Wales comprising 0.1% of the world’s researchers and securing only 0.05% of global R&D funding, it succeeds in producing 0.3% of the world’s research articles; 0.5% of citations and 0.5% of the most highly-cited articles.

Some of the other key findings in the report include:

  • Wales’ share of the top 5% of most highly-cited publications is twice the global average;
  • Wales’s citation impact is 80% above the global average and 13% above UK average;
  • Despite a comparatively small research base, Wales is highly efficient in terms of output vs spending;
  • Collaboration between corporations and academic institutions in Wales grew by a fifth between 2010 and 2018;
  • Wales has 3.4% of all of the UK’s researchers, but they produce 4% of its output.
  • More than half of Wales‘s research output was produced in international collaboration.

Recent examples of ground-breaking Welsh research work include the establishment of a UK-wide network to test for Covid-19 in wastewater by Bangor University.

Backed by Welsh Government funding, the new epidemiology network helped to inform public health decisions during the pandemic; built up future pandemic preparedness and highlighted the important role played by the wastewater industry in public health.

Another example is Swansea University’s Active Building Centre Research Programme (ABC-RP), which brings together 10 leading universities across the UK to crack a number of decarbonisation challenges – including improving energy networks and thermal storage technology, and collecting useful data from more than a thousand “green” homes.

Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said:

“This is yet another example of how a sector in Wales punches above its weight category, with our research institutions, universities and partnerships producing internationally significant research.

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen just how valuable good scientific research can be – and it’s especially encouraging to note that natural science and medical and health science are our most prolific subject areas, accounting for 54% and 39% of all of Wales’ research output.

“While the efficient approach our research sector has taken and the successes they’ve achieved deserve praise, the sector continues to face challenges following our leaving the EU, with a tightening and more competitive UK funding scene.”

Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, who has Cabinet-level responsibility for science and research in the Welsh Government, said:

“I very much welcome this report, which shows our researchers are some of the most efficient and effective, among small countries, at translating relatively low levels of research income into highly-regarded published research, which delivers significant economic, social, cultural and health benefits for people and communities in Wales.

“This up-to-date evidence ably demonstrates Wales has strong future potential for continuing to grow innovation and research collaborations, and for developing global relationships and creating new inward investment opportunities, which will help us deliver our ambition of creating new high quality jobs in the industries of the future.

“However, we need to be mindful of the uncertainly and challenges the research sector faces. While the Welsh Government invested almost £400m of EU funds in research and innovation since 2014, the UK Government’s plans for replacement funding put the sector at a considerable disadvantage in the years ahead. They need to change course urgently so that all sectors in Wales have fair access to this funding, which will enable our institutions to go on producing research that has a positive impact on the lives of people not only here in Wales, but across the globe.”

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