Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series on research at the University of Hawaii and its potential to drive the state’s economy. Bruce Stevenson, former CEO of Pacific Health Research Institute, contributed to the research for this series.

There’s a strong correlation between the quality of a university’s original research and its academic standing. Measures of how well a university maximizes the public’s investment, therefore, are faculty productivity and research quality.

We examined faculty output at UH; the University of Vermont; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Wisconsin. (Read why those were selected.7)

We narrowed our study to three of the most familiar and telling benchmarks: publications, federal grants and faculty stature. We compared the universities’ research productivity in these areas by normalizing to faculty numbers and state funding levels.

Publications

We looked at the number of articles published in the journals Science and Nature, widely accepted gold standards for scientific research. We then took a broader view by looking at the number of publications indexed in Google Scholar’s online search engine of scholarly literature. We also determined the number of publications appearing in PubMed, an exhaustive listing of biomedical literature. We then considered the quality of research publications through the rankings of the Higher Education and Accreditation Council of Taiwan, which uses an array of bibliometric methods to analyze and rank the performance of world’s universities according to the number of scientific publications and their impact.

The Details: For every 1,000 faculty members on its four-year campuses, the University of Hawaii system has landed 23 publications in Science or Nature during the last 10 years. Comparatively, the University of Vermont landed fewer than five per 1,000 faculty members and UC Davis barely more than three. But the two leading state research universities each have around 30.1

The number of articles divided by the number of faculty reveals that on average each full-time UH professor was cited in or wrote about 4 articles indexed on Google Scholar last year, on par with UVM and UC Davis. UW did slightly better and UCSD’s scholarly publications total was more than double UH’s.2

For every 10 faculty members, UH had 1.8 publications listed in PubMed in 2010, about the same as UC Davis. UCSD was almost 40 percent higher at 2.5 publications per 10 faculty members. UVM had more than twice as many as UH, with 3.9 per 10 faculty members, and UW had three times as many. 3

The Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan rankings of scientific publication productivity and quality for 2010 put UCSD at number 12 in the world, followed by UW at number 20 and UC Davis at 29. UH trails far behind at number 138, and UVM falls at number 280. When only life sciences publications are considered — those that would include medical school-based research — UCSD comes in at number 4 in the world, UW number 27 and UC Davis at 32. UVM are far behind, at numbers 247 and 273.

HEEACT World Ranking Life Sciences
UVM 280 247
UW 20 27
UCSD 12 4
UC DAVIS 29 32
UH 138 273

Bottom Line: UH ranks third out of five, but competitive with Wisconsin, when it comes to Science and Nature publications. It ranks fourth out of five in the HEEACT global ranking of scientific publication productivity and quality. But it’s on the bottom when it comes to Google Scholar, PubMed and HEEACT life sciences rankings.

Federal Grants

Because many of the costs of university research are covered by federal grant funding, we looked at university funding from the two primary funders of scientific research at U.S. universities: The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The Details: UH and UVM both received less National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health funding per faculty member than the other three universities: about $54,000 per faculty member in 2010. In comparison, the University of California at San Diego received more than double that at $126,000 per faculty member.4

Bottom Line: UH and UVM receive equivalent amounts in combined funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and are not too far off from UW. But UC Davis comes out ahead and UCSD has more than double UH’s total.5

Faculty Stature

Finally, we looked at the overall quality of the faculties by determining membership in the National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. These are honor societies of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific, engineering, and health research. Members are elected in recognition of their distinguished achievements; it is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or clinician.

The Details: UH has only six faculty in the National Academies per 1,000 total faculty members — compared with nine at UVM and 22 at UW. UCSD has more than six times UH’s National Academies membership: 38 per 1,000 faculty members.

Bottom Line: Of the five universities in our analysis, UH has the lowest rate of membership in the National Academies.6

UH Started With Focus on Teaching, Not Research

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood told Civil Beat that the university started with a focus not on research, but on education. The criteria for promotion didn’t even include research, Jim Gaines, vice president for research, told Civil Beat.

Hiring has changed, and in recent years UH has been able to attract mid- and late-career academic leaders, they said.

“If you look at who we’ve attracted and who we didn’t attract, we are playing in the same pool of faculty members as the best universities and we’re getting our fair share,” Greenwood said. She pointed to the new UH Hilo College of Pharmacy, where faculty were hired from Johns Hopkins and Harvard.

Tomorrow: We examine these same outcomes in context of the state’s investment in the university.

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