Unveiling the Dynamics of European Higher Education Collaboration Networks: the role of doctoral students

The landscape of research collaboration among European universities is dynamic and complex, influenced by various organizational factors. A recent study titled “Organizational Factors affecting higher education collaboration networks: evidence from Europe” (Antonio Zinilli, Eleonora Pierucci & Emanuela Reale), published on Higher Education (Springer), delves into the intricacies of these factors. This study sheds light on how partner selection mechanisms influence research collaboration, ultimately reducing fragmentation and fostering knowledge creation and dissemination.

The investigation spans the years 2011–2016, focusing on two distinct scientific collaboration networks: EU-funded projects and publications. The study differentiates between two European Research Council (ERC) research domains, namely Physical Sciences and Engineering, and Life Sciences.  Three Datasets developed by RISIS Research Infrastructure for Science and Innovation Policy Studies (EUPRO, CWTS Publication Database, and RISIS-ETER) represented the primary source of the research.

The empirical analysis, based on a sample of 1,462,496 publications from 964 universities and 6285 projects granted to 743 universities, reveals compelling evidence regarding the critical dimensions influencing collaboration patterns. Of the various factors examined, research capability, measured through the presence of doctoral programs, emerged as the most robust and consistent. This factor exerted a clear and stable impact on both the inclination to establish collaboration ties.

From a policy perspective, promoting inclusiveness and research integration requires incentivizing collaboration among more heterogeneous universities. This can be achieved by encouraging the inclusion of smaller universities in EU projects and prioritizing the involvement of doctoral students in project applications. The study provides a comprehensive understanding of the organizational factors influencing research collaboration among European universities. By emphasizing the role of research capability and the contributions of doctoral students, the findings offer practical insights for fostering collaboration and advancing European research networks.

Paper available in open access