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The battle for quality

Ibero-American leaders, USP and Unicamp discuss how to increase the impact of their research

MIGUEL BOYAYANTwo São Paulo institutions, the University of São Paulo (USP) and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), and a Mexican institution, the Autonomous National University of Mexico (Unam), lead the scientific productivity ranking in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Iberian Peninsula, as disclosed by the Spanish research group SCImago (SIR 2010). The survey takes into account abstracts and references of some 17,000 periodicals from the Scopus database of the Elsevier publishing house. From 2003 to 2008, USP produced 38,000 scientific articles, Unam, 17,000 and Unicamp, 15,000. On the list of the 10 most productive universities, 5 are Spanish, 4 are Brazilian (besides USP and Unicamp, Paulista State University/Unesp ranks sixth and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro/UFRJ, seventh) and one Mexican university, Unam.

The ranking provides qualitative data. One of the indicators is CCP, the Spanish acronym for Average Scientific Quality, which measures the scientific impact of an institution after eliminating the influence of its size. Another index is Q1, which shows the percentage of publications of the university that form part of the group comprising the most influential journals in the world, the 25% best placed in a ranking of publications from SCIMago. According to Marco Antonio Zago, Dean of Research at USP, these data are important because they show where the university has room for progress. “USP has been increasing its contribution relative to the whole world, but my concern is with quality, which can improve,” he says. In the case of CCP, USP had an index of 0.81, which means that it is 19% below the world average in quality. In the case of Q1, on the other hand, the university got 40.35% of its publications into the group of most influential periodicals. For comparison purposes, the University of Barcelona has a CCP of 1.41 and a Q1 of 62.16. According to Zago, there is a set of tools that can be used to improve impact and quality. “We encourage our researchers, particularly the new professors, to present projects to FAPESP. The Foundation has a process of analysis that is known to be good. This is educational and shows researchers that the university expects them to have scientific production,”  he says. The scientific leaders at USP, says the Dean, already produce top quality work. He analyses the impact of the articles published recently by 23 coordinators of thematic projects in the areas of medicine and biomedicine, who are linked to USP, and found that 437 of the pieces of work had 11,148 citations. “The citation ratio of this group was exceptionally good, with 25.2 citations per article. The average at Harvard University is 40 citations,” he said.

Unicamp faces the same challenge, with an Average Scientific Quality of 19% below the world average and 38.18% of the articles on the list of the most influential journals. The Research Dean of the university, Ronaldo Pilli, says that one of his priorities is to increase the visibility of its research by encouraging the university’s researchers to publish in high impact journals. “We do not expect to increase the number of researchers. Our emphasis will be on publishing in more influential journals,” said Pilli, recalling that from the viewpoint of production per head, Unicamp stands out as the university with the best publishing performance. “We have figures in the order of 11 citations per work 10 years after publication, taking into account  the production of all our researchers.”  Unicamp has encouraged the submission of projects to agencies, supported the hiring of young professors, with amounts as high as R$ 40,000 for the first two years, and encouraged hiring professors from abroad. “This term, some 30 foreign visiting professors will take part in our graduate programs,” says Pilli.