Quantifying the publication preferences of leading research universities

Barbara S. Lancho-Barrantes, Francisco J. Cantu-Ortiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research universities have a strong devotion and advocacy for research in their core academic mission. This is why they are widely recognized for their excellence in research which make them take the most renowned positions in the different worldwide university leagues. In order to examine the uniqueness of this group of universities we analyze the scientific production of a sample of them in a 5 year period of time. On the one hand, we analyze their preferences in research measured with the relative percentage of publications in the different subject areas, and on the other hand, we calculate the similarity between them in research preferences. In order to select a set of research universities, we studied the leading university rankings of Shanghai, QS, Leiden, and Times Higher Education (THE). Although the four rankings own well established and developed methodologies and hold great prestige, we choose to use THE because data were readily available for doing the study we had in mind. Having done that, we selected the twenty academic institutions ranked with the highest score in the last edition of THE World University Rankings 2020 and to contrast their impact, we also, we compared them with the twenty institutions with the lowest score in this ranking. At the same time, we extracted publication data from Scopus database for each university and we applied bibliometrics indicators from Elsevier’s SciVal. We applied the statistical techniques cosine similarity and agglomerative hierarchical clustering analysis to examine and compare affinities in research preferences among them. Moreover, a cluster analysis through VOSviewer was done to classify the total scientific production in the four major fields (health sciences, physical sciences, life sciences and social sciences). As expected, the results showed that top universities have strong research profiles, becoming the leaders in the world in those areas and cosine similarity pointed out that some are more affine among them than others. The results provide clues for enhancing existing collaboration, defining and re-directing lines of research, and seeking for new partnerships to face the current pandemic to find was to tackle down the covid-19 outbreak.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2269–2310
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021


  • Higher education institutions
  • Research universities
  • Research preferences
  • Scientific production
  • Cosine similarity
  • Hierarchical clustering


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