ByProfessor Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, (CAS) is China’s principal government research institution, with over 60,000 research staff, and Institutes throughout the country. I started working with CAS 30 years ago, in China’s western deserts. For the past 7 years I have carried out joint research on tourism and environment with the CAS Institute for Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), co-funded by the Chinese national parks, forestry, and tourism agencies, universities, private enterprise, the Boao Forum, and the Australia China Council.

Over these three decades, Chinese science has become far more internationalised. Chinese scientists have taken up positions worldwide. Expatriate scientists have returned to China. Chinese students gain English-language educations in universities such as Griffith. The Chinese government funds scientists to visit international universities for joint research and publication inEnglish-language academic journals. Chinese university publishers have translated English-language texts, including my own, into Chinese. There are English-language journals published in China, English-language journals of Chinese research published internationally, and Chinese-language journals with English titles and abstracts which are indexed and searchable using Google Scholar and similar tools.

Impact of Chinese journals

As we noted in Nature (501: 492) last year, the number of Chinese academics could boost impact factors of Chinese-language journals to international competitiveness. This has not happened yet, sinceChinese academic institutions prefer their leading scientists to publish in upper-tier English-language journals wherever possible. Perhaps China will become a bilingual nation. Chinese schoolchildren aged 10 years and younger now learn English intensively in school, and are fluently bilingual.

Another possibility, however, is that Chinese-language, or bilingual Chinese-English journals might cross an impact-factor threshold, perhaps boosted by government policy changes, which could lead to a runaway positive feedback and large rapid increases in impact factors. If this should begin, then academics from other countries will also want to publish in Chinese journals, boosting IFs even further. Indeed, many academics already hedge their bets by publishing part of their work in Chinese journals. For universities such as Griffith which have strong engagement with China and are keen to strengthen collaborations, such strategies are particularly important.

Collaboration opportunities

Griffith University has a top-level Memorandum of Understanding with CAS, which includes reciprocal exchanges of PhD students. The CAS IGSNRR is keen to establish a more specific MoU with Griffith Sciences. The initial focus ison conservation, protected areas and ecotourism, but this willexpand across the environmental, natural resources and geographical sciences more broadly in years to come. Griffith University gains substantially from such cooperation.