Clarivate’s annual list of Highly Cited Researchers (HiCis) keeps getting bigger year after year. This year’s edition, released on November 16, included 6902 researchers, an increase of 586 (or 9.3 per cent) compared to 6316 last year.

The list is all about recognising the world’s top researchers in their chosen field(s) as seen through the publication of papers indexed in the Essential Science Indicators, which have been cited the most during the past eleven years (2011-2021). The list ranks the world’s top one per cent of researchers based on citations.

Since 2015, the list has been updated annually and this is the fifth year in which Clarivate includes a category of researchers with cross-field impact. Out of the overall count, 3244 are cross field researchers and 3981 are in one of 21 specific fields of science. About 280 researchers are listed in more than category and there are a handful of researchers listed in four or more categories.

Over the five-year period, the proportion of researchers in cross fields has increased from 33.2 per cent to 44.9 per cent. This illustrates the increased significance of multidisciplinary research endeavors across the world.

The HiCis list also makes up 20 per cent of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), produced by Shanghai Rankings. Any change in the number of HiCis at institution is enough for an institution to move up or down a few places.

Before I focus on the performance of Australian universities and what it means for next year’s ARWU ranking, let us focus on how the global landscape is changing.

 weakening western influence

Although the United States continues with the highest number of HiCis (2764 in 2022), its relative share has decreased from 49.5 per cent in 2015 to 38.3 per cent. By contrast, the number of HiCis from China has increased from 144 in 2015 to 1169. China’s relative share has increased from 4.6 per cent in 2015 to 16.2 per cent. China has had the second highest number of HiCis since 2019.

Given the magnitude of China’s investment in higher education over the past 25 years, we are likely to see China stepping ahead of the United States in the share of HiCis within a decade, if not sooner. Consider, China produced over 62000 doctorate completions in 2019 compared to 55,280 in 2020 for the United States. Over the past two years, China has produced more scholarly outputs than the United States.

Up to 2018, the United Kingdom had the second highest number of HiCis but has stayed third overall over the past four years. The United Kingdom’s share has declined from 9.9 per cent in 2015 to 8.0 per cent. After five years of relative decline, the United Kingdom increased its number of HiCis from 490 in 2021 to 579 in 2022.

Last year, Australia and Germany had the same number of HiCis (330) and both had a global share of 5 per cent (and therefore both countries ranked equal fourth). However, Germany has pulled ahead of Australia this year with 369 HiCis compared to Australia’s 337. Germany’s share increased to 5.1 per cent and Australia’s share decreased to 4.7 per cent.

Over the past five years, the global landscape has shifted towards Asia:

* the number of HiCis from Asian countries has increased from 836 in 2018 to 1631 in 2022, and its share increased from 13.8 per cent to 22.6 per cent

* the number of HiCis from Western Europe increased from 1974 in 2018 to 2031 in 2022, but its share declined from 32.5 per cent to 28.1 per cent

* the number of HiCis from North America increased from 2805 in 2018 to 2990 in 2022, but its share decreased from 46.2 per cent to 41.4 per cent

* the number of HiCis from Australia and New Zealand increased from 259 in 2018 to 354 in 2022, and share increased from 4.3 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

* the number of HiCis from the Arab States increased from 103 inn 2018 to 133 in 2022, but its global share remains relatively unchanged at 1.8 percent in 2022.

All other world regions continue to have relatively small numbers of HiCis.

Another way to look how the landscape of research production has changed is to consider the most frequented surnames of HiCis:

* in the 2001 edition the ten most frequented surnames were: Smith (27), White (22), Cohen (21), Williams (18), Johnson (18), Lee (16), Miller (16), Davis (16), Thompson (15) and Anderson (15)

* in the 2022 edition, the ten most frequented surnames were: Zhang (138), Wang (126), Li (98), Chen (92), Liu (80), Yang (58), Wu (44), Huang (41), Zhou (37) and Yu (35).

In the 2022 edition, there are 18 Smiths and it is the 27th most frequented surname.

performance of Australian universities

Of the 337 Australian researchers included in the list, 321 are affiliated with 31 universities. In the 2018 edition there were 227 researchers affiliated with 26 universities.

The group of five universities (University of Queensland, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, and Monash University) continue to have a 51 per cent share of the HiCis. Uni Queensland tops the Australian list for a second consecutive year with 45 (up by one from last year), followed by Uni Melbourne with 38 (up by two from last year), then UNSW with 34 (down by two from last year). Uni Sydney has five fewer (25) compared to 30 last year, and Monash University increased its number of HiCis by six, to 22.

On this basis, we are likely to see Uni Melbourne and Uni Queensland maintain top performances in ARWU. Monash University is also likely to see a continued improvement in standing. It will be interesting to see if there is yet another switch in the standing of Uni Sydney and UNSW.

Of the 14 Australian universities which increased the number of HiCis, the most gains were at Monash University and UWA, with an increase of six. UWA is basically assured to remain in in the world’s top 100 in ARWU next year, currently ranking at 99th.

We also see UTS, Deakin University and Curtin University increased their HiCis number by three. It will be interesting to see if these three institutions move up in band next year; currently they are sitting outside the top 200 in ARWU.

Three Australian universities now have a HiCi after not having one in the previous four years: Charles Darwin University, Federation University, and Central Queensland University. Of these, Charles Darwin University is the only one currently ranked in ARWU (801-900 band).

There were 10 institutions which experienced a decrease in the number of HiCis. As noted earlier, Uni Sydney dropped by five. Swinburne U has now four fewer HiCis compared to last year’s 15. Southern Queensland University lost all the four HiCis it had last year. Uni Wollongong now has four HiCis compared to seven last year.

Generally, an institution loses a HiCi due to the researcher moving to another institution or not satisfying Clarivate’s threshold required for each field.

Based on the results of the 2022 HiCi list we are likely to see some movement in the overall standing of our universities. Institutions who experienced a decline in the number of HiCis (by more than two) may decline in standing in ARWU, whilst the institutions which gained two or more are likely to move up. Of course, it all depends in the institutional performance in other measures such as the volume of papers published in Nature and Science and per capita measures.

Overall, we are likely to see Australian universities continue to do well in ARWU. This is even though Australia does not have the level of investment in higher education that is happening in Asia. As previously noted, Asia and the Pacific has become the epicenter of global higher education and is likely to remain the region with the highest volume and share of enrolments over the next decades.

multi disciplinarity gains momentum

As noted above, since 2018 the proportion of HiCis listed under the cross-field category has increased by 11.7 points to 44.9 per cent this year. However, Australia’s performance remains below the world average (by 3.7 points). 41.2 per cent or 139 researchers are in the cross-field category in 2022. Australia is also below the proportion of cross field HiCis from North America and Western Europe (42.6 per cent).

Furthermore, the proportion of HiCis from China who are in the cross-field category has increased by 12.5 points from 42.7 per cent in 2018 to 55.3 percent this year.

There is an opportunity for our researchers to reflect on ways they can boost collaboration with researchers across fields. One way to do so is to reach out to researchers who are also working in solving similar societal issues across fields. They can apply the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to harness synergies, promote social cohesion, foster innovation as well as advancing science.

There is also a great opportunity for our researchers to increase collaboration with researchers from middle and lower-income economies to strengthen development of the research workforce and their research endeavours.

to be, or not to be a HiCi

There is such a joy to be recognised as a researcher of exceptional performance and having influenced others through publication of highly cited papers. There are many researchers who appear in the list year after year. But there are also researchers who intermittently appear in Clarivate’s annual list.

Researchers who wish to be HiCis need to monitor how their citations are tracking and see if these are keeping in pace with Clarivate’s required threshold.

Publishing in top quality journals, co-publishing with researchers across fields and publishing regularly over many years are key ingredients to having the required impact. Having the occasional highly cited paper is not a long-lasting proposition.

It is worth considering as well that there is a vast difference in producing a highly cited paper and producing influential papers.

Number of Highly Cited Researchers and standing in ARWU – selected universities
Inst 2018 2021 2022 Change 2021 – 22 2022 rank in ARWU 2022 ARWU Hi Ci score
Queensland 28 44 45 1 47 45.3
Melbourne 33 36 38 2 32 41
UNSW 20 36 34 -2 64 41
Sydney 14 30 25 -5 60 37.4
Monash 21 16 22 6 75 27.3
Adelaide 12 19 19 0 101-150 29.8
UWA 12 10 16 6 99 21.6
UTS 8 12 15 3 201-300 23.7
ANU 10 11 12 1 79 22.7
Deakin 5 9 12 3 201-300 20.5
Swinburne 4 15 11 -4 201-300 26.5
Curtin 6 7 10 3 201-300 18.1
Tasmania 5 8 9 1 201-300 19.3
QUT 6 6 7 1 201-300 16.7
Western Sydney 3 7 6 -1 301-400 18.1
James Cook 7 7 6 -1 301-400 18.1
ACU 2 5 5 0 501-600 15.3
RMIT 3 4 5 1 301-400 13.7
Wollongong 11 7 4 -3 201-300 18.1
Murdoch 0 4 4 0 401-500 13.7
Table compiled by author.
Sources: Clarivate’s Highly Cited Researcher List, current and archived editions.
ARWU, 2022 edition.
Listed institutions are those with four more HiCis in 2022

Angel Calderon is Principal Adviser, Policy and Research at RMIT


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