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The relationships between international cooperation and research productivity have been widely discussed in research literature. International research collaboration is often found to be a critical factor in predicting high research productivity.

The question is whether and to what extent international collaboration indeed correlates to higher than average research productivity and whether the relationships are consistent across all academic disciplines. The analysis was conducted with reference to two separate groups of academics, termed “internationalists” and “locals”. We defined “internationalists” as academics with involvement in international collaboration and “locals,” academics indicating a lack of involvement in international collaboration.  The data were drawn from the global CAP study, “Changing Academic Profession” and the European EUROAC project,  “Academic Profession in Europe: Responses to Societal Challenges.” The primary data come from 11 European countries documenting 17,211 individual cases.

Our research demonstrates that across all major clusters of academic fields, the difference in productivity between European “internationalists” and “locals” is statistically significant at a high level (p< 0.001). European academics collaborating with international colleagues in research had published (on average) substantially more articles in academic books or journals than their colleagues in the same academic field who were not collaborating internationally.

The percentage of academics collaborating internationally in research across Europe is high — on average by two-thirds of academics. There are huge cross-disciplinary and cross-national differences, though. Academics in the physical sciences and mathematics are by far the most internationalized (Three-fourth of them are collaborating internationally) and academics in the professional fields are the least internationalized (Only about half of them are collaborating internationally).

Internationalists in 11 European countries across all academic fields had published on average about twice as many articles as locals. In some academic fields, such as engineering internationalists produced on average about 140 percent more and in the physical sciences and mathematics, about 120 percent more articles, while in humanities, social sciences and the professional fields, about 70 percent more articles during the three-year period of the study (2005-2007 for CAP and 2008-2010 for EUROAC countries). Internationalists in life sciences and medical sciences, the academic field with the highest productivity rate, produced on average 8.80 articles (about 80 percent more than locals who produced an average of 4.91 articles. The academic field with the highest productivity rate differential between internationalists and locals in Europe is engineering with the average productivity rates of 6.97 articles for the former group and 2.91 for the latter.

In the 11 European countries studied, international collaboration in research correlates with a substantially higher number of publications. Only in the Netherlands, the most highly internationalized system in Europe, were the results not statistically significant. If we assume that the mean number of publication of locals is 100 percent, then the field mean for internationals varies from about 240 to more than 400. International collaboration pays off most significantly in in engineering where academics collaborating internationally produce four times more publications, and least in the humanities and social sciences and professions (about two and a half times more). 

We also organized four categories of countries—internationalization leaders, followers, moderates, and laggards. The internationalization leaders are the relatively small systems of Ireland and the Netherlands, where, on average, more than four in every five academics are collaborating internationally, followed by Austria, Switzerland and Finland. In the internationalization followers where about three-fourths of academics participate in international research. The two least internationalized systems, or internationalization laggards, are the relatively big systems of Poland and Germany where slightly less than a half of all academics collaborate internationally. The remaining countries are internationalization moderates.

The correlation of high research productivity with international collaboration does not mean the identification of causal relationships. International cooperation in research may be generally undertaken by more productive academics and, as such, may be sought after by the more productive academics elsewhere. Also more productive academics tend to have better access to funding for international cooperation. There is also an important difference between publication numbers and their scientific significance. Quantity does not necessarily reflect scientific value although it is often assumed in the studies on the social stratification in science that a higher number of publications tends to lead to more consequential research.


Research productivity of European academics is strongly correlated with international research collaboration; the average research productivity rate of European academics involved in international collaboration (internationalists) is consistently higher than the rate of European academics not involved in international collaboration (locals) in all academic fields and in the 11 countries studied.

The distinction between internationalists and locals permeates European research. Some systems, institutions, and academics are consistently more internationalized in research than others. For internationalists, the international academic community is a reference group, while locals publish predominantly for the national academic community.

Internationalization increasingly plays a stratifying role in the academy, though more international collaboration tends to mean higher publishing rates and those who do not collaborate internationally may be losing more than ever in terms of resources and prestige as well as academic “accumulative disadvantage”.

Competition has become a permanent reality of the European research landscape and local prestige combined with local publications may no longer suffice in the race for national or international resources and academic recognition. Huge cross-disciplinary and cross-national differences apply but, in general, the internationalization of research in European universities is progressing rapidly.


* A longer version of this blog is forthcoming in International Higher Education.

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