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Capturing ‘R&D excellence’: indicators, international statistics, and innovative universities


  • Robert J. W. Tijssen

    () (Leiden University
    Stellenbosch University)

  • Jos J. Winnink

    (Leiden University)


Abstract Excellent research may contribute to successful science-based technological innovation. We define ‘R&D excellence’ in terms of scientific research that has contributed to the development of influential technologies, where ‘excellence’ refers to the top segment of a statistical distribution based on internationally comparative performance scores. Our measurements are derived from frequency counts of literature references (‘citations’) from patents to research publications during the last 15 years. The ‘D’ part in R&D is represented by the top 10% most highly cited ‘excellent’ patents worldwide. The ‘R’ part is captured by research articles in international scholarly journals that are cited by these patented technologies. After analyzing millions of citing patents and cited research publications, we find very large differences between countries worldwide in terms of the volume of domestic science contributing to those patented technologies. Where the USA produces the largest numbers of cited research publications (partly because of database biases), Switzerland and Israel outperform the US after correcting for the size of their national science systems. To tease out possible explanatory factors, which may significantly affect or determine these performance differentials, we first studied high-income nations and advanced economies. Here we find that the size of R&D expenditure correlates with the sheer size of cited publications, as does the degree of university research cooperation with domestic firms. When broadening our comparative framework to 70 countries (including many medium-income nations) while correcting for size of national science systems, the important explanatory factors become the availability of human resources and quality of science systems. Focusing on the latter factor, our in-depth analysis of 716 research-intensive universities worldwide reveals several universities with very high scores on our two R&D excellence indicators. Confirming the above macro-level findings, an in-depth study of 27 leading US universities identifies research expenditure size as a prime determinant. Our analytical model and quantitative indicators provides a supplementary perspective to input-oriented statistics based on R&D expenditures. The country-level findings are indicative of significant disparities between national R&D systems. Comparing the performance of individual universities, we observe large differences within national science systems. The top ranking ‘innovative’ research universities contribute significantly to the development of advanced science-based technologies.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. W. Tijssen & Jos J. Winnink, 2018. "Capturing ‘R&D excellence’: indicators, international statistics, and innovative universities," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 114(2), pages 687-699, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:114:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11192-017-2602-9
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-017-2602-9

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    References listed on IDEAS

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