Spotlight: UK research links with Ukraine
As Russian invasion emphasizes collaborations, analysis shows growing R&D ties between the two countries
UK academic links with Ukraine have grown steadily over the past decade, with UK researchers now the country’s sixth most important contributor.
As Russia stages an increasingly bloody invasion of Ukraine, attention has focused on academic ties to both nations.
Many donors and institutions around the world have declared their solidarity with Ukraine and urged cutting ties with Russia, although Universities UK has said it does not support blanket bans on academic collaboration as a means of protest.
An analysis of articles and journals indexed in 20,000 Web of Science journals shows that Ukraine-based researchers published about 12,000 articles last year, double the number 15 years ago. (Web of Science and Research Professional News are both owned by Clarivate.)
Russian researchers are Ukraine’s most frequent collaborators, working on 9,714 of Ukraine’s 95,789 publications over the past 10 years, or just over 10%. Poland is the second largest contributor, with 9,190 articles, followed by Germany with 8,360 and the United States with 7,875. France comes fifth with 5,822 ahead of the United Kingdom with 5,362.
The UK’s ties with Ukraine have grown slowly over the past decade. In 2012, there were 391 articles with co-authors from both countries, about 7% of Ukrainian research. In 2021, this reached 592 items, or about 11% of the country’s production.
“Most of the papers between the UK and Ukraine are in journals related to particle physics and astronomy,” says Jonathan Adams, chief scientist at Clarivate, “where research projects tend to involve major international collaboration and publications with a high number of authors”.
Next come chemistry, interdisciplinary materials science and medicine, followed by ecology, nanosciences and mathematics.
Imperial College was the most frequent co-author institution in the UK, followed by the University of Bristol.
Other UK collaborators in the top five are UK Research and Innovation, Science and Technology Facilities Council and STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
The universities of Oxford, Birmingham, Southampton, Warwick and Brunel University make up the rest of the top 10 contributors, followed by Manchester, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Glasgow, all with several hundred co-authored papers over the past 10 years.
Imperial College London President Alice Gast and Provost Ian Walmsley said in a joint statement that “British, Russian and Ukrainian scientists have worked closely together for decades in areas such as health, physics high energies and space exploration. There is a long history of scientists working across borders in times of conflict, improving the world through their discoveries and playing an important role in rebuilding relationships that have been divided.
“These individual relationships must continue; however, we will not associate with the Russian state.
Other institutions in the UK are also carefully considering their links with Russia following the invasion. Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, said on February 28 that his university had “agreed to review all of our dealings with Russian state institutions, with a view to ending relationships and contracts where possible.” .
The British government has also announced that it is reviewing its science and innovation ties with Russia, as part of a wider sanctions package.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ties with Belarus – which sided with Russia over the attack on Ukraine – are relatively weak. Belarus is Ukraine’s 31st most frequent partner, behind Ireland and Mexico, and often tied to Russia: about two-thirds of Ukraine-Belarus articles have a Russian researcher as a co-author.
Belarus itself is “a minor player whose output has grown very little and actually fallen by about a quarter to a sixth of that of Ukraine,” says Adams.
The biggest increase in collaboration with Ukraine is with China, which has grown from very little in the 1990s to 578 articles in 2021, or 4.86% of Ukraine’s total, he adds. .
As for Russia, its international research collaboration has been “relatively stagnant” in recent years. The UK is its 5th most frequent bilateral partner, growing from a handful of co-authored articles in the 1990s to just over 400 in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“France is ahead of the UK in Russian collaborations but is about to be overtaken by China which is, as always, on a steep trajectory,” says Adams.
The United States and Germany remain Russia’s most frequent partners, although they each account for only about 3% of Russian newspapers.
“Russia’s indexed search output hasn’t grown as rapidly as that of other major search economies over the past 25 years,” says Adams, “but that may be partly due to the insistence of the Russian Academy on publishing in hard-to-access Russian journals for non-Russian speakers. However, there was a decline in the resources and status of scientists in Russia during the period.