Are Big Cities Losing Their Research Edge?

Recently I looked at an interesting new study that explored some of the factors underpinning the best research universities in the world.  The researchers believed that transport connectivity was key, as this facilitated the kind of diffusion of minds that is so important to successful and groundbreaking research.

One might imagine, therefore, that this would result in the world’s major cities also being hubs for academic excellence, but a second study, from the Laboratoire interdisciplinaire solidarités, sociétés, territoires (CNRS/University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès/EHESS/ENSFEA), the INCREASE Federation at the CNRS, and the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin (CNRS/MEAE) suggests otherwise.

Scientific prominence

The authors contend that it has been official government policy in many countries to focus efforts on a concentration of resources in research and higher-education, with the eventual creation of major university hubs.

Despite this apparent policy however, the simultaneous rise in student numbers around the western world has led to a deconcentration of knowledge production.  The researchers believe that this deconcentration affects not only the number of scientific articles produced, but also their quality and visibility.

The authors geocoded over 14 million journal articles published between 1999 and 2011.  The analysis reveals a distinct decline in the power of cities such as New York and London, with the share of the top 10 global cities falling by 6% between 2000 and 2010 (to 17.3%).

Whilst there is a clear growth in less historic academic regions, particularly Asia, there is also an evident shift within countries as well.  For instance, both New York and Paris lost ground to other parts of the US and France respectively.  What’s more, the shift appears to be consist across disciplines, whether science or humanity based.

Suffice to say, the traditional hubs remain hugely powerful, but their dominance of the academic marketplace does appear to be waning.