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The universities of Latin America and the Iberian peninsula now know where they stand—at least according to the newly released Ranking Iberoamericano SIR 2010. Produced by SCImago Institutions Rankings, a project of the Spain-based SCImago Research Group, the list of just over 600 universities in these two regions of the world was generated through an examination of four key indicators during the period 2003-2008. Of the top 10 institutions, five are Spanish, four Brazilian, and one is Mexican. Brazil holds the number one and number three positions (the Universidade de São Paulo and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, respectively). In position number two is the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. Nearly 50 percent of the ranked institutions are found in just three countries: Brazil (109), Colombia (89) and Spain (85). Out of the top 100 positions in the ranking, Spain accounts for 43 of the institutions, while Brazil’s universities account for 27.
To be considered for this ranking exercise, a university in the target region had to have produced at least one scientific publication in 2008 recorded by Scopus. Some 607 institutions in 28 different countries met this basic criterion. From there, the research group analysed quantitative publication and citation information for each university, focusing specifically on what the researchers termed “scientific production” (number of articles in scientific journals); “international collaboration” (as determined by the rate of scientific publications produced in cooperation with foreign institutions); “average scientific quality” (defined as the “scientific impact of an institution after eliminating the influence of the size and thematic profile of the institution”); and percentage of publications in the top 25 percent (most influential) of the SCImago Journal Rank.
Although any ranking activity can be criticised for its lack of attention to the wider range of subtleties beyond a set number of indicators, rankings can also serve as catalysts for reflection and analysis. For example, the attention paid to the development of graduate education in some contexts, the focus on international collaboration in others, and the availability of public funds to support university research are just a few key factors that can and should be carefully examined for a better understanding of what “recipe” of circumstances enable scientific production of significant quality.