Changing Higher Education blog has an interesting review of the changing face of publication:

The NSF just released two interesting reports. Changing US Output of Scientific Articles:1988-2003 is a detailed analysis of publications in refereed journals over that time period. The companion publication, Changing Research and Publication Environment in American Research Universities, is based on interviews with scientists in 9 leading US research universities.

The first report extends and quantifies the well known result that the American share of international research publications has been dropping over time as other countries build their scientific and engineering capabilities. More importantly, it also shows the very surprising result that the absolute number of US scientific publications in peer reviewed journals has plateaued or dropped since the early 1990s. The second report seeks to understand that flattening of US research output.

In terms of the US share of scientific articles, the European Union (EU-15) passed the US in 1998 in total number of articles, and then flattened out in growth somewhat. What NSF calls the East Asia -4 ( China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) has shown the most robust growth in number of articles over this period (16% per year), and equaled Japan in number of articles by 2003.

The NSF also looked at “highly influential” publications - those in the top 5% in number of citations, by field. Here the US continues to “outperform”: in all fields, more that 5% of the highly influential papers had US authors. However, in almost all fields, the percentage of highly influential papers with US authors has shrunk since the 1990s, indicating growth in quality as well as quantity of the scientific work being done outside of the US . Nevertheless, in 2003 roughly 50% of the highly influential papers show American authorship, with the EU-15 a distant second with about 30%.

Although the metrics indicating global coauthorship are rather course, there is clear indication of increasing international collaboration in all fields of science. In fact, the NSF concludes that the US held up as well as it did in the “highly influential” contest because it increased its participation in international collaboration.

Taiwan is desperately trying to raise the competitiveness of its universities, but its publication rates are too low. The top Taiwan university, National Taiwan University, isn’t in the world’s top 100 universities, whilst China has three or four universities in that ranking. The number 2 Taiwan university, National Chengkung University, is ranked 291. Many observers argue that Taiwan should offshore its manufacturing to China and move into R&D and services. But can Taiwan’s university system deliver in that case? Can the island attract top talent from China and elsewhere? At Swenson’s on Saturday, the speaker pointed out that Chinese R&D talent either stays in China or follows the brain drain out to the west, especially the US. Taiwan is entirely bypassed in this process. Top Chinese researchers are of course interested in Taiwan, but as a thing in itself, not as a place to do research.

To raise its competitiveness, publication output is only one aspect. Salaries would have to rise dramatically, and all the masters degree holders would have to go, unless they are major publishers of high quality work. Some degree of competition would have to be introduced into the system — the controls on salaries, which is a subtle inducement for the best people to move into the National universities, would have to be lifted. More leeway would have to be granted in the construction of interesting classes and acceptance of names — we have had entire meetings devoted to bringing names into exact alignment, since by ministry guidelines “Introduction to Poetry” and “Poetry 101″ are two different classes. The system would have to become far more student oriented. The power and workload of the Chairmen would have to be reduced. The government has increased its investments in science funding and in exchanges. That would have to be sustained. Of course, it goes without saying that restrictions on hiring foreign faculty would have to be lifted, including substantive liberalization of visas.

A knowledgeable friend pointed out that the testing system, which controls which students go to what colleges, actually prevents system corruption. Chinese prefer “the best” out of a desire for status, not quality. If the restrictions on student choice were lifted, all the parents would want to get their kids into National Taiwan University and the few other top institutions, meaning that the intake system would become totally corrupted by under the table payments (there are rumors that this has already occurred in the top high schools — want to get your son into the top school? A red envelope to the academic affairs department head is required). Yet without the introduction of widespread competition in the system, how can the universities here improve? There’s quite a bit of anger leveled at the Ministry of Education’s reform programs, but in many cases the problems it faces are highly complex, multifaceted, and nigh-on intractable. For example, consider the culture change necessary to get Taiwanese to accept education as an enhancement process, and not as a weeding out process….

UPDATE: Wow! No sooner do I write on this topic, then a news item appears that’s relevant: a Nobel physicist who wants to work here has to get a work permit.

Unless negotiations produce a different policy, Nobel prize-winning physicist Daniel Chee Tsui (崔琦) will have to apply for a work permit if he decides to teach at National Taiwan University just like other white-collar foreign workers in this country.

Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓)called for negotiations between the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), which demands work permits for all professors except those directly hired by national research institutions as consultants or researchers, and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

“No professor is going to want to be grouped with laborers,” Chou argued. “The matter of securing entry for professors should be the province of the MOE, not the CLA.”

Chou said he has appealed to the secretary-general of the Executive Yuan, Chen Chin-jun (陳景峻), to kick start talks between the two branches of government.

When asked for comment, Chen told reporters by telephone on Monday that he is still working on negotiations to allow Tsui and other professors to enter the country without first obtaining a work permit.

“We hope that the CLA can expand universities, especially elite universities, to the list of research institutions,” said Ho Jow-fei (何卓飛), the head of the Ministry of Education’s Department of Higher Education.

Ho said that some foreign professors have previously complained about the need to obtain a work permit.

Yup. Many sure have.