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Reviewing university approaches to research assessment in the transition to Open Science

The transition to Open Science and Open Access is gaining momentum in Europe, making it a shared responsibility for universities and their main partners to review how they incentivise and reward researchers in this changing landscape. EUA’s Bregt Saenen discusses key findings from a new survey report that inform and strengthen the discussion on making research assessment practices more accurate, transparent and responsible.

The European research and innovation landscape is increasingly making research publications and data openly available, creating a need for universities to review their approaches to research assessment. On the occasion of the Open Access Week 2019, the European University Association (EUA) has published a new survey report to inform and strengthen the discussion on making evaluation practices more accurate, transparent and responsible.

Open Access policies are slowly but surely becoming commonplace in Europe. In 2018, EUA found that 62% of universities had an Open Access policy in place on research publications, although only 13% had a similar policy on research data. A group of research funding organisations launched Plan S, which aims to accelerate the transition to full and immediate Open Access to research publications by January 2021. The European Commission is making Open Access to research publications and data the default option in Horizon Europe, the research and innovation framework programme set to launch in January 2021. Beyond this, the broader transition to Open Science is also gaining momentum.

These are encouraging developments. However, university approaches to research assessment need to reflect these changes. The right incentives and rewards will ensure that researchers take part in the process of making research publications and data openly available. A recent report by RAND Europe found that UK researchers expect to produce more diverse research outputs in the next five to ten years, but this change will be mainly driven by the effect on their careers.

The new EUA survey report shows that current approaches to research assessment are focused on publishing research outcomes and attracting external funding. These activities are regarded as important or very important for research careers by respectively 90% and 81% of responding universities. A range of other academic activities are also acknowledged, most notably research impact and knowledge transfer, but it is clear that publishing research and attracting external funding are the two main activities that are incentivised and rewarded.

Universities also rely on evaluation practices that are geared towards assessing research publications. Quantitative publication metrics and qualitative peer-review show a clear lead and are regarded as important or very important by respectively 82% and 74% of responding institutions. Especially striking is the widespread use of the journal impact factor by 75% of respondents to evaluate researchers and their output.

Conversely, Open Science and Open Access indicators are only important or very important to 28% of universities in their approach to research assessment for the purpose of research careers. Even among this group the open accessibility of research publications and data is often only monitored at the institutional level, rather than being part of individual-level incentive and reward structures.

Reviewing university approaches to research assessment to reflect the changing European research and innovation landscape is a shared responsibility. It requires a concerted approach uniting the main actors. Internally, it requires an intra-university dialogue between researchers, research support personnel and university leadership. Externally, it requires universities and their main partners, notably governments and research funding organisations, to engage with each other.

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Bregt Saenen

Bregt Saenen is Policy and Project Officer at the European University Association. He works on research assessment in the transition to Open Science and the digital transformation of research and innovation. Bregt holds a doctoral degree in EU Studies from Ghent University in Belgium.

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