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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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The Do's and Don'ts of Boosting Publication Activity

July 9, 2020

Russian universities have substantially improved their scientometric performance in recent years, as the government stepped up efforts to support university-based science while academia sought to expand the global visibility of its research output.

Dramatic progress has been made by the universities that participate in Project 5-100, a state-funded initiative aimed at making Russia's premier higher education providers more competitive worldwide. The averaged-out number of their publications in sources indexed by the two major international abstract and citation databases, Web of Science (WoS) Core Collection and Scopus, surged by a factor of 4.5 between 2012 and 2019, nearly double the Russian average.

These statistics and conclusions are contained in the article titled “Publication Activity of Academic Staff in Russia: Results, Trends, Problems” from the latest issue of the Science Governance and Scientometrics journal. Authored by Nadezhda Polikhina, head of the Project 5-100 Office and acting director of Sociocenter, a Moscow-based institution for social studies, the paper uses data sourced from WoS and Scopus and their respective analytics platforms, InCites, and SciVal.

Project 5-100 institutions have been making headway not only in quantitative but also in qualitative terms, increasing the number of publications that ranked in the 1% and 10% most highly cited ones by 600% and nearly 500%, respectively, in 2012-2019. At the time of print, these figures stood at more than 700% and almost 600%, as the databases continued to index papers from 2019.

Such growth speaks to the international interest aroused by the Project 5-100 universities' research output, its topicality and value to global science. The improvement has been made possible by a deep-going, wide-ranging transformation of the universities. The paper looks into how they have been expanding their research output and promoting its global visibility. Some of these highly efficient solutions can be profitably adopted by other Russian universities seeking to build up their research capabilities.

The most obvious one – but also the one hardest to implement – consists in conducting a great deal of cutting-edge, globally significant research. Joining global networks and mega-collaborations is of the essence. Here, Project 5-100 institutions have done a good job, setting up more than 3,900 research projects led by big-name international scientists and/or pursued in cooperation with forward-looking scientific institutions between 2013 and 2018 (this number tops 4,700 for 2013-2019).

Their top partners include Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) affiliates. These collaborations both enhance the research competencies of the academic staff and unlock the joint potential of the universities and RAS-affiliated research institutions.

For research findings to reach the global academic community, they must be published in scientific journals or reported at conferences. With this in mind, Project 5-100 universities have been encouraging publication activity by their faculty and staff, setting publication targets for both individuals (as part of their contracts) and departments. Significantly, there has been a gradual shift in focus from the total number of internationally indexed publications to the number of papers placed with Q1 and Q2 journals. This, notes Nadezhda Polikhina, means that purely quantitative metrics are being superseded by a quantitative-qualitative combination. It also explains why, in Russia, the universities that make the top 10 by total publications are, for the most part, the same that show up in the top 10 by the number of publications in the highest-impact journals. Clearly, a consistent emphasis on high-quality publication output is paying off.

In addition, Project 5-100 universities have endeavored to create a research-conducive environment, setting up units to help translate publications into English and establishing academic writing centers to teach scientific communication in English to Ph.D. students, staff, etc.

The article goes on to say that researchers should be offered guidance on such issues as choosing a publisher, submitting their work for publication, etc., especially where initiatives to foster university-based science are only just being launched. It is also important to design strategies to prevent scientific misconduct, such as churning out low-quality publications and deliberately inflating scientometric indexes, which is most often done by engaging with junk, or predatory, publishers. Nadezhda Polikhina, however, cautions against drawing conclusions about a researcher's dishonesty without careful analysis.

By 2024, the National Project for Science aims to put Russia in fifth place worldwide in terms of the number of internationally indexed research papers in areas prioritized by the country's S&T development program. Project 5-100 universities' experience shows that it need not take long for an institution with a focus on high-quality publications to substantially improve its scientometric indicators.

Nadezhda Polikhina's article “Publication Activity of Academic Staff in Russia: Results, Trends, Problems” is available on the website of the Science Governance and Scientometrics journal.