New strategy pushes universities to embrace open science
The European University Association (EUA) has set out a radical vision to support its 850 member institutions in 48 European countries to move to an open science system that aspires to open access not only to scholarly outputs, but the whole research process.
The strategy unveiled in the EUA Open Science Agenda 2025 document has set the goal of placing Europe’s universities in “a scholarly ecosystem”, characterised by academic ownership of scholarly communication and publishing – with open science becoming an integral part of research assessment practices – within three years.
The move is part of a growing trend by the research community to challenge the global dominance of increasingly expensive academic publications, which, despite recent progress in open access to scholarly outputs, still sees an estimated 85% of new research articles published in journals being behind paywalls.
Dr Vinciane Gaillard, EUA deputy director of research and innovation, told University World News that the EUA open science agenda strategy has been a year in the making and will be followed up by an action plan, with specific targets and a timeline to monitor progress, to be published in June.
Trend away from ‘impact factors’
The EUA’s open science agenda coincides with a number of initiatives around the world which are pushing for a new system of evaluating research away from relying on measuring the number of highly cited papers a researcher has had published in journals with ‘high impact factors’.
France, for example, is using its six-month presidency of the European Commission to press European Union member states to disrupt the status quo and made its Paris Call on Research Assessment at the Open Science European Conference (OSEC) held on 4-5 February 2022.
This called for the creation of a coalition of research funding organisations, research performing organisations and assessment authorities “willing and committed to reform the current research assessment system”, so that it “values the diversity of research activities and outputs, such as publications and preprints, data, methods, software, code and patents”, as well as their societal impacts and public engagement.
Dutch academics have also been at the fore in rebelling against the uncritical use of journal impact factors to recognise and reward researchers, with Utrecht University committing to end the use of “impact factor” in all its hiring and promotions and saying it will judge its researchers by their commitment to open science, teamwork, public engagement and data sharing, as University World News reported in August.
Findings hidden behind paywalls
Gaillard said the EUA had been advocating open access to scientific discovery for a decade and a half, but the increasing cost of publications hiding research findings behind ever-higher paywalls demonstrated the need to move faster towards open science, which she described as “knowledge and understanding created by researchers being treated as a public good”, and available for society as a whole.
“The recent COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the need for and benefits of opening knowledge up, and of openly sharing research data, research results, and the whole research process,” she said.
Her views are shared by Robert-Jan Smits, president of the executive board of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and a former director general of research and innovation at the European Commission, where he founded Plan S in 2018 to kick-start a worldwide shift in attitudes towards open access research.
Writing “Viewpoint” in Science Business on 3 February 2022 under a joint by-line, Smits and journalist Rachael Pells said: “Each year, taxpayers worldwide contribute over US$2 trillion towards research and development – for new vaccines, for example, but also to further our knowledge of climate change, health, economies, poverty and other global inequalities.
“Public money contributes to the publication of around 2.5 million papers in scientific journals each year – yet as taxpayers most of us have access to just a fraction of that output.
“In fact, it is estimated that at least two-thirds of the world’s publicly funded research, and an even higher majority of the world’s total research content, is locked behind paywalls, preventing millions of people from accessing the information they want or need.”
Three priorities for open science strategy
The new EUA strategy highlights three priority areas and assesses the state of play with each, and developments envisaged by 2025 and the challenges.
The first is described as “universal and perpetual open access to scholarly outputs, in a just scholarly publishing ecosystem”, with an end to barriers to journal articles, books, datasets, protocols, algorithms and software source codes.
Many national and EU research funders now also require the results of research they fund to be published in an open access format, but Gaillard said the EUA found “roughly 85% of new research articles published globally are still produced in journals that are behind paywalls”.
She said their research showed that “soaring costs for research-intensive institutions are not sustainable”, and the high profit margins enjoyed by commercial publishers mean institutions are spending much more than the actual costs of the services provided.
The EUA Agenda 2025 document says: “Universities, research performing organisations, researchers, research funders and national libraries all have a crucial role to play in re-gaining academic sovereignty over the publishing process. Institutions and researchers have relinquished their rights to commercial publishers, and these publishers have made copyright their mainstay. Authors and institutions need to retain their intellectual property rights.”
To tackle the issue, the EUA document says it will advocate “a just scholarly publishing ecosystem that is transparent, diverse, economically affordable and sustainable, technically interoperable, and steered by the research community”.
The EUA will also offer a platform for Europe’s universities and their negotiators to share information about challenging publisher negotiations, and empower university leaders and negotiating consortia to explore different open access routes and develop strong negotiation strategies.
FAIR approach to research data
The second priority area, according to the EUA Agenda 2025 document, is defined as FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) research data.
“Here, data is used in its broader sense, meaning a diverse set of information, knowledge, and results that are generated by, and at the same time support, research projects in different scientific fields,” explained Gaillard.
“FAIR data is now part of the broader open science discussion, as it ensures that scientific results are available for sharing and reuse. However, FAIR does not mean ‘open’ and while these two concepts are complementary, publicly funded research data needs to be as open as possible and as closed as necessary.
“Open or not, all relevant research data should adhere to the FAIR principles, because applying them ensures reproducibility and enhances the visibility of research outcomes,” she said.
The EUA Agenda 2025 document says that at the European level, the Horizon Europe research programme “requires funded projects to develop data management plans and to make their research data FAIR. National funding organisations have also adopted similar requirements”.
To meet the new requirements, the EUA Agenda 2025 suggests that more attention should be paid to upskilling and reskilling current research staff as they will increasingly be asked to comply with new European and national FAIR data requirements.
Challenges over research assessment
The third priority mentioned in the EUA Open Science Agenda 2025 is institutional approaches to research assessment, with the document challenging many of the current practices in universities in Europe and around the world when it comes to hiring, career progression and funding allocations.
A survey conducted by the EUA showed that in 2019 quantitative publication metrics were the main evaluation practice used by universities, with 75% of institutions responding to the survey using ‘journal impact factor’ as a proxy indicator in individual-level evaluations of research activities and careers.
“That’s of particular concern,” said Gaillard, “but implementing more responsible research assessment practices is a real challenge.”
She told University World News there needs to be a “balance between qualitative peer-review and quantitative metrics to develop and implement assessment approaches, focusing on evaluating research activities and careers on their own merits with a view to improving academic culture”.
“Universities also need to develop practices that incentivise and reward open access to scholarly outputs and promote open science throughout the entire research process,” she added.
Knowledge hub role for EUA
The EUA sees its role as being an important knowledge hub about university initiatives to improve the evaluation of research activities and careers and explore open science incentives and rewards, and their impact on and benefits for academic culture, equality, diversity and inclusion, said Gaillard.
“Efforts are also being made to open the whole research process and bring it closer to society. Our definition of open science extends the transition beyond open access to scholarly outputs and aims to open the whole research process. For example, universities are increasingly exploring the potential of citizen science and providing institutional support for researchers engaging in this practice,” Gaillard told University World News.
The EUA plans to take the open science agenda forward by sharing good practices and working with international partners such as the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), the Research Data Alliance (RDA), Open Access 2020 (OA2020) and the ESAC community of library practitioners coordinated by the Max Planck Digital Library.
Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.