The Learned Society of Wales today (12 February 2013) publishes Recognising the Quality of Research at Universities in Wales, a Report that debunks myths about and prevailing negative perceptions of the research performance of Wales’s universities and shows that they rank highly when measured against the standards of national and international competitors.

The Report was written by one of the Society’s Founding Fellows and a member of its Council, Professor Robin Williams CBE FInstP FLSW FRS.  Professor Williams writes:

For more than a century academics from universities in Wales have made significant contributions to research, nationally and internationally. Today it can be argued that research in Wales is at an all time high in terms of both volume and quality.

Amongst the examples of this that he cites are:

  • the fact that groups from Wales lead the world in many areas including the creation and study of antimatter, in numerical modelling of engineering structures, in neuroscience and in understanding cancer and diseases such as Alzheimer’s;
  • the significant growth in the number and range of academics from Wales elected to prestigious UK Learned Societies, such as the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy and Academy of Social Sciences; and
  • the establishment in 2010 of the Learned Society of Wales itself, to demonstrate, celebrate and disseminate the excellence of Welsh research and scholarship.

Professor Williams goes on to write:

Yet the perception that appears to exist within many sections of Wales is that the Welsh universities are seriously underperforming with regards to the quantity and quality of research. While most in Higher Education would agree that research performance in Wales can and must be strengthened, the potential damage of these negative perceptions for the sector’s reputation, for its competitive international standing and for informing future policy needs to be recognised.

 He summarises his findings as follows:

A close analysis of Wales’s research performance demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, the quality of research in its universities ranks highly by national and international standards. An independent Report commissioned by BIS in 2011 demonstrates that in terms of publications, international citations and value for money, the UK ranks in the leading few countries internationally. This Report also notes that Wales has performed above the UK average in recent years in terms of the impact of its publications, based on the numbers of citations. … In terms of contributions to the economy and the community … Universities in Wales continue to outperform the UK in many areas, including the formation of spinout companies and business start-ups.

The Report concludes with a call for this positive reality to be properly communicated, both within Wales and beyond, and for all parties (the Government, the Funding Council and the universities themselves) to work to continue the improvement of the past decade:

Communicating correctly the growing reputation of research in Wales is vital, both within Wales and to the wider world. Perception is an important ingredient in attracting the best students and staff and it is a key factor in the response of international bodies which shape the league tables of world university rankings. It is important for the global reputation of Wales and can aid inward investment and economic growth. The shape and structure of higher education in the UK is changing very rapidly and there are huge challenges ahead if Wales is to continue the improvement of the past decade. These challenges can be met but will need all parties, Government, HEFCW and the universities, to respond rapidly and more than ever to continue to pull together.

In his Foreword to the Report, the Society’s President, Sir John Cadogan CBE DSc FRSE FRSC PLSW FRS, writes:

“Professor Williams’s paper is an excellent factual summary of the research performance of our universities, showing that, despite their relative underfunding, they are punching over their weight.  They also, relatively, have a very good record of converting the fruits of research for the benefit of the economy.  Whatever excellence exists in Wales is due to a large extent to our universities.

“Not that we should be content with what the universities have achieved.  Just think what they could have done or would do with funding equivalent to that in England – or just half of that available in Scotland.  Reinforce success!”