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Academic Leadership for Open Science: UNICA Rectors Seminar, 14 September 2018

UNICA (the Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe) organized a seminar on academic leadership in open science policies and implementation. It was attended by approximately 30 rectors and vice-rectors from UNICA member universities and other university staff.

The invited presentations, panel discussions and audience comments crystalized importance of the following topics:
  • Universities are leaders in open science;
  • Scholarly communication and research assessment have to change with universities playing a very important role;
  • Neither universities nor national or European research funders can act alone, cooperation is needed for the successful and time-efficient implementation of open science principles.
The presentations are available at the seminar web page.

Open science strategies across Europe

Prof Frank Miedema is Professor of Immunology, Dean and Vice-Chairman of the Board at the University Medical Centre Utrecht at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and co-founder of Science in Transition. He believes that academic leadership is essential for transition to open science. The latter is technical in nature (open access to publications, open research data …) and includes cultural change.

Current reward system in science where society is absent from the credibility cycle, with hyper competition for limited funds, and quality being dominantly defined in bibliometric terms (number of articles, journal impact factor, H-index, amount of funding obtained) has failed to deliver to the society. It is difficult to introduce open science because established impact factor research assessment has to be changed. University management has the power to introduce changes.

Prof Ted Bergstrom is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. He explained that scholars are the main workforce in academic publishing: they write, peer review, and get little or no payment as editors. Publishers add logo, place the publication to the web site and control access. In the prevailing subscription “business model” copyright is transferred to publishers and universities have to buy back the right to read.

Financial reports of publishers show that Elsevier’s profit is 40%, Wiley’s, Springer’s and Taylor & Francis’ about 35%. Publishers maintain different prices for different libraries, secret subscription lists and numbers of subscribers, and oblige libraries to keep prices and contracts secret. The real power of publishers are monopoly and prestige.

In the current subscription equilibrium, most articles are accessible by subscriptions, universities pay for access, publishers adjust subscription prices so that all can subscribe and it does not make sense to cancel subscriptions.

The solution is that nobody subscribes, every university pays open access papers. How to get from one equilibrium (subscriptions) to the other (open access) and is it good?

Prof Horst Hippler is former President of the German Rectors’ Conference and the spokesperson for the DEAL project. Before the project, 615 German institutions independently negotiated with publishers. There was no overview how much public funding is spent for licencing. In the project, it was discovered that 160 million EUR per year was spent for licencing in Germany.

The DEAL negotiations goals are that all publicly funded institutions in Germany must participate, they will not pay for reading of publishers’ journals, they are ready to pay for immediate open access, where publications of corresponding authors from Germany are licenced with Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY). The DEAL institutions obtain perpetual access to the complete e-journals portfolio of publishers. This model is called PAR (Publish And Read) and has clear open access transformation agenda.

German scholarly community has granted a mandate for negotiations to the German Rectors’ Conference. The negotiations started with three major STM publishers (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley). The internal transformative cost distribution is required to enhance acceptance. Agreements must be made publicly available. Open access transformation requires global support. Scholarly community has lost authority over publications, academic publishers have changed them into commercial commodity.

Negotiations with Elsevier started in 2016 and have not not yet came to the conclusion. Currently, two thirds of German institutions do not have access to Elsevier journals, but German scholarly community stands behind the DEAL project. German researchers are diminishing work as editors of Elsevier journals.

Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen is Director of National Network Services at the National Library of Finland and member of the European Commission's Open Science Policy Platform. She is former president of LIBER (Association of European Research Libraries). She spoke about Open Science Policy Platform Recommendations and about Open Science and Data – Action Programme for the Finnish Scholarly Community. The former contains general recommendations and prioritised recommendations for the eight ambitions of the European Commission on open science (i.e., rewards and incentives, research indicators and next-generation metrics, future of scholarly communication, European Open Science Cloud, FAIR data, research integrity, skills and education, and citizen science).

The open science action programme was created by the Finnish University Rectors’ Council. The aim is that open science is part of daily life of science at all levels. Focus is on easy access and support for openness, open science culture, scholarly publishing, and FAIR data.

Responsible choices for open science

Prof Bernard Rentier is Rector Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Virology and Immunology at the University of Liège in Belgium. As rector he requested that researchers’ publications be deposited in the university repository (so called green open access) and has linked internal research assessment to the deposited publications in the repository. Only publications that are in the repository are considered for research evaluation at the University of Liège. This way papers of researchers are more readily available. Prof Rentier also showed that impact factor is a deception. For example, Nature journal had impact factor of 41.4 in 2014. 14% of articles contributed to this impact factor and 86% of articles were never cited. Irregardless of no citations, they would be allocated points in the current research assessment system.

Prof Jean-Pierre Finance is former President of the Henri Poincaré University from Nancy in France and Chair of the European University Association Expert Group on Open Science. He told that the number of researchers is increasing as are their necessity to publish, the number of scientific fields, and publishers’ profits. Globalization is an important aspect. All these have caused increasing number of scholarly journals, dramatic increase in expenditure for university libraries, and increasing need for change of assessment. Copyright needs to be mastered as well as embargo delay. Various types of publications need to be explored as well as effective competitiveness among journals and new and open peer review.

Negotiations with publishers need to be performed at the national and perhaps at the multinational level with sharing of information between negotiators as well as transparency. Dramatic change of research evaluation methods needs to take place.

We are still in the hands of big publishers. It is necessary to promote open access and at the same time master global cost and the quality of scholarly publications.

Prof Astrid Söderbergh Widenning is President of the Stockholm University in Sweden. She believes that academic leaders have to communicate a lot about open access. She cited Robert Maxwell who has called academic publishing “a perpetual financing machine”. Plan S is the right way to flip the subscription system into open access.

Academic leadership is a must in open science. When she suggested cancellation of Elsevier journals few years ago, some Swedish rectors reacted that this cannot be done to Swedish researchers. In spring 2018, all Swedish rectors agreed with the cancellation because this is owed to Swedish researchers. After the cancellation, researchers are extremely supportive. Funding that was not spent on licencing of Elsevier journals, is being used for open access fees.

Prof Söderbergh Widenning believes that there is no way back. Open science is here to stay, but we have to be realistic.

Prof Jean Chambaz is President of the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, and Chair of the League of European Research Universities. He observed that topic of this seminar is academic leadership for open science, i.e., the role of academics in open science, but other stakeholders currently hold leadership over open science. Leadership for open science has to be in academia.

There is no one solution for open science for a university or a country. With global problems, solutions have to be local. For example, change in rewarding of science, based on open science, is needed.

Coordination of research intensive universities in France has decided that only publications deposited in institutional repositories will be used for research assessment. Savings from negotiations with publishers will be used for open access and open science. Publishing of open access journals will be funded. Cultural change was started that should lead to a revolution.

Kurt Vandenberghe is Director for Policy Development and Coordination at Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission. He told that universities are leaders in open science and the European Commission will support them. The eight ambitions of the European Commission include FAIR data (mandatory data management plans, costs for managing and ensuring research data openness will be eligible). The European Commission proposed recast directive on public sector information with open research data to become hard law. Regarding the European Open Science Cloud, the plan is to enable deposit and access to research data – researchers will use European research data without leaving their desk. Altmetrics will complement traditional research assessment. Open access will have to be ensured to publicly funded peer reviewed publications. The European Commission is very committed to start implementing Plan S as soon as possible. Plan S is a step to a more ambitious agenda.

Reward system is another ambition, which is very important because it will happen at universities. The open science label, planned for the Horizon Europe Framework Programme, will show how universities perform research evaluation. Regarding ethics, ALLEA code needs to be followed and meaningful codes of conduct. Development of skills of researchers for open science will be supported. Citizen science includes new ways for citizens to significantly contribute to science.

Benefits of open science are better return on investment in research, more productive use of research results, and more value for the society. Open science speeds up research (during zika and ebola outbreaks research data were made public prior to publications).

It is expected that open science modes like open science notebooks, open data transcending disciplines, open peer review and faster circulation of new ideas could become prevalent. Millions of small and medium enterprises will have access. All these will bring about more transparency and accountability for science in the European Union.

This seminar shows that academic leadership does not want to be traditional. Open science benefits the society, but also researchers.

Prof Yvon Englert, Rector of the Université libre de Bruxelles, a host of the seminar, stressed that open science is not only a technical issue. Evaluation of quality and reward systems, linked with careers of researchers, needs to be addressed. Politically, the rise of academic publishers with high profits is reflecting what we see in other sectors. 19th century relations with publishers are not appropriate anymore. We should be aware that individual institutions are too small to play a role. Plan S is a sign of change of scale, other partners are entering the game.

Finally, Prof Englert said that this was rectors' meeting, rectors have to take their responsibilities. If universities want to be heard, they have to step together.

Photo Credits: Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
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