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Why European universities are getting involved in reforming research assessment

Reforming research assessment is a hot topic, as community-driven momentum now meets national and transnational political support. Here, EUA experts that have been closely involved in drafting a landmark new agreement give a behind the scenes look at the process to date, elaborate on the unique opportunity this represents for universities and look forward to the key next step: a broad coalition of stakeholders.

The assessment of research, researchers and research organisations must better recognise the diverse outputs, practices and activities that maximise the quality and impact of research. The opening of signatures to the new Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment marks an important step in realising this shared vision. Crucially, organisations that sign the agreement commit to work together to enable systemic reform on the basis of common principles and within an agreed timeframe. They can also join a coalition that will facilitate exchanges of information and mutual learning between all those willing to improve research assessment practices.

Getting to this point has meant a community-driven, co-creation exercise taking place over several months, with strong support from policy makers. The European University Association has played a leading role in drafting this agreement alongside sister organisation Science Europe, facilitated by the European Commission and further bolstered by Dr. Karen Stroobants’ input as an expert in research on research. Throughout the drafting process, this team worked closely with a core group representing the diversity of the research community across Europe. Furthermore, a stakeholder assembly bringing together more than 350 organisations from over 40 countries provided invaluable feedback as drafts of the agreement evolved.

Why is this important for universities?

As central actors in academic assessment and research assessment, universities should have an active voice in shaping research assessment processes. Universities are research performing organisations that assess research and researchers on a regular basis, be it for the purposes of allocating funding, recruitment and staff promotion, or making prize and award decisions, to name only a few. Research funding organisations and assessment authorities also assess universities and their research units.

Universities and their academic staff, as researchers or research teams, contribute to society in many different ways. While new knowledge and understanding are created, taught and disseminated within universities and beyond for the benefit of society as a whole, current research assessment systems fail to recognise the diversity and richness of activities developed by institutions. Current research assessment practices focus almost exclusively on a very narrow set of indicators (e.g. journal-based metrics), which are known for creating biases and distortions in the system (cf. Research Assessment in the Transition to Open Science, 2019). Therefore, reimagining research and academic assessment provides a unique opportunity to recognise a wide range of contributions and develop more responsible, transparent, and sustainable assessment practices. In other words, the academic sector now has a unique opportunity to reclaim ownership of research assessment and align it with core academic values such as academic freedom, institutional autonomy, research integrity, diversity and inclusion, cooperation, openness and knowledge sharing, critical thinking and democracy.

This is perfectly in line with Universities without walls, EUA’s vision for 2030, which advocates for a broader set of evaluation practices for academic careers, including a wide definition of impact, beyond traditional bibliometric indicators. More recently, this vision has been further reflected in the EUA Open Science Agenda 2025, which seeks to ensure the inclusion of incentives and rewards for Open Science throughout the research process.

What’s next?

The Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment will bring together a wide range of organisations committed to implementing the agreement, and will enable multiple stakeholders to share experiences, learn from each other and advance together towards more responsible, transparent and sustainable assessment practices. Importantly, the agreement and the work of the coalition will respect the autonomy of all organisations to shape their own path in the reform of research assessment. While the agreement provides a common framework, organisations that become part of the coalition will embark on a long journey to jointly explore, test and define the steps and activities in their path to reforming research assessment. Differences across national regulations, institutional profiles and disciplinary practices, among others, will also guide the work of the coalition.

As a leading force behind the development of the agreement and the creation of the coalition, EUA strives to keep its members comprehensibly and systematically informed, thus enabling them to make an informed decision. For example, EUA has run a workshop series on this topic and is currently co-organising additional national workshops with several of our collective member organisations (national rectors’ conferences).

A crucial moment

At such a critical time, universities need to drive how the evaluation of the quality and impact of academic activities and careers will be defined. The moment to do so is now. Together we can shape research assessment for tomorrow and beyond. We encourage you to read the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment and discuss it within your institution, before taking a decision on whether to sign the agreement and join the coalition.

“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.

Rita Morais

Rita Morais is Adviser for Research and Innovation at EUA.

Vinciane Gaillard

Vinciane Gaillard is Deputy Director for Research and Innovation at EUA.

Stephane Berghmans

Stephane Berghmans is Director for Research and Innovation at EUA.

 

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