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The just-released Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2023 would have delighted the Malaysian universities that were included in it for the first time.

Calculations for THE rankings are based on a set of performance metrics that include a whopping 30% weightage for research and another 30% for citations.

The cumulative citations received by researchers affiliated to a university help it to move up the rankings ladder.

So how can researchers improve their productivity and citation score to help their university move up?

Today’s research efforts need people to share their knowledge and resources. The scope of academic research is expanding across national borders, and those working in silos are a thing of the past. More and more bibliographic studies are showing that research papers written with international partners tend to be cited more often.

My colleagues and I have discovered in multiple published research that there has been an increase in international collaborations, and that internationally co-authored publications obtained more citations than locally co-authored papers.

The number of articles produced, and the number of citations obtained over time, serve as indicators of research productivity at the individual, institutional and national levels.

The number of researchers writing a paper varies significantly across disciplines. In humanities, there tends to be single writers, but it is generally accepted that due to the increasing interdisciplinarity of research and globalisation, it makes perfect sense to collaborate with partners who can make substantial contributions to the project.

Mark Granovetter argued in his 1974 seminal study, “The Strength of Weak Links”, that our social networks are comprised not only of close friends and relatives but also of more tenuous “weak ties”. He believed that these weak relationships are more significant than strong ties for the dissemination of information and ideas.

The rationale is simple: persons outside of our close circle are more likely to expose us to new knowledge and concepts. If academics solely collaborate with well-established local circles, creative ideas may come up less frequently. By bringing in overseas collaborators, there is a chance that creative ideas will enter our tightly knit circles and help us produce better papers.

Internationally, works by mobile academics are becoming increasingly prominent and cited. Some of the academics meet their potential partners at a conference.

Digital technologies and virtual academic platforms, such as ResearchGate and Academia, now make it possible for researchers to communicate online and commence research without ever having to meet physically.

When I asked 134 economists in academia from around the world who were working overseas (international academics) about collaboration, more than 90% agreed that it increased paper quality.

But despite the benefits, international research also presents practical challenges. First, there are language barriers. Impaired communications can generate confusion and divide research groups. To collaborate effectively, team members must have clear communication channels and recognise and accommodate cultural differences.

On a larger scale, international cooperation is under pressure due in part to tensions between the West and Russia, and the United States and China. Conflict between China and the US, in particular, could prove detrimental to international research as these countries are two of the world’s largest producers and collaborators in research.

Furthermore, if geopolitical tensions continue, long-term collaborations in low and middle income countries (LMIC) may also suffer.


Asia-Europe Institute
Universiti Malaya


Article was first published at The Star.

Last Update: 20/10/2022