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In partnership with the other UK higher education funding bodies and the Medical Research Council, we commissioned Elsevier to conduct a quantitative review of interdisciplinary research.

Using the disciplinary diversity of article bibliographies as a proxy for interdisciplinarity, the study examined the intensity and performance of interdisciplinary research activity in the UK and in eight comparator countries in the years 2009-2013. The findings show that:

  • UK interdisciplinary research activity is growing in intensity, in line with a global trend
  • UK interdisciplinary research is highly collaborative in international terms, with over 45 per cent of the most interdisciplinary publications co-authored with international colleagues
  • academia makes a major contribution to UK interdisciplinary research, with 85 per cent of the most interdisciplinary publications including at least one author from academia.

The report also observed:

  • a higher intensity of interdisciplinary research activity in the emerging research nations included in the study
  • a lower citation impact associated with interdisciplinary research among all countries examined
  • the high and stable performance of UK research, with the UK’s publications (including the most interdisciplinary) attracting the highest citation impact of all comparator countries.

A supplementary report analysed outputs submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and observed a lower proportion of the most interdisciplinary publications in REF submitted outputs than has been observed for the UK as a whole. The reasons for this difference need detailed exploration through a qualitative study, which the funding bodies intend to conduct later this year.

Read HEFCE's joint statement with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Date: 30 July 2015

Ref: Independent research