A closer look at research data practices in European universities
Follow-up to the 2020-21 EUA Open Science survey
By Federica Garbuglia, Rita Morais, Stephane Berghmans and Vinciane Gaillard
This report is the last one of a series of three follow-up reports to the main EUA 2020-2021 Open Science survey report. The other two follow-up reports examined Open Science in academic assessment and Open Access in more depth.
This report presents the detailed results of the EUA 2020-2021 Open Science Survey and focuses on research data practices at universities in Europe. How is the research data landscape changing in the higher education sector? How are universities supporting the emergence of a good and FAIR research data management culture at institutional level?
These and other questions (omitted from the main survey report) are addressed here, to provide further insights into university research data experiences.
The term ‘research data’ covers the diverse set of information, knowledge and results generated by, and which at the same time support, research projects in different scientific fields. In recent years, research data has taken on increasing importance, because it facilitates the transition to Open Science. The implementation of good research data management practices is key to ensuring that research results can be shared and reused by the greater research community.
Different guidelines have been created to support universities and other Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) in this process, notably the FAIR data principles, which offer guidance on ensuring research data is made Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Nevertheless, FAIR data does not mean ‘Open’ data: the decision to share publicly funded research data without restrictions should be guided by the principle of “as open as possible and as closed as necessary”.
In the wider European context, research data is at the heart of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), which will provide a common ecosystem where data can be accessed, shared and reused; by federating existing and new research data infrastructure and e-infrastructure. As key contributors of research outputs, service providers and e-infrastructure hosts, universities have a key role to play in implementing EOSC. Results from the EUA 2020-2021 Open Science survey show that 7 out of 10 institutions are aware of the potential benefits of engagement with EOSC. However, at the time of data collection, only a minority planned to link their infrastructure to EOSC services. More actions will have to be planned to ensure universities engage in developing EOSC.
Several European-level initiatives were implemented to promote the uptake of (FAIR) research data management practices at universities. The European Commission notably decided to require draft Data Management Plans (DMPs) for all project proposals submitted to Horizon Europe. Compliance with the FAIR data principles is now also required by the Model Grant Agreements for EUfunded projects. As similar measures are also being adopted by national funders, universities will increasingly need to ensure that their students, researchers and staff have the skills to carry out research data-related practices and to comply with new European and national funding requirements.
Research data is also acquiring more importance in the wider discussion around digitalisation. Equipping future graduates, researchers and society at large with the skills needed to support the digital transition is becoming a priority on European, national and institutional agendas. Research data management and FAIR data are part of this skillset; and research data processing and management careers are increasingly in demand in both the academic and private sectors. A recent EUA survey exploring universities’ innovation capacity and their role in supporting the digital transition shows that research data management and staff uptake of digital skills are two important challenges for universities pursuing the digital transition through their innovation activities. The survey also highlights how the digital transition is being largely implemented through universities’ research activities. The right skills and infrastructure will therefore be key enablers that help universities create opportunities to facilitate the digital transition.
EUA has long advocated the importance of sharing and reusing research data. In 2019, EUA became a partner in the Fostering FAIR Data Practices in Europe (FAIRsFAIR) project, which aims to supply practical solutions for the use of the FAIR data principles throughout the research data life cycle. As part of the project, EUA led a Work Package on FAIR Data Science and Professionalisation, contributing to the development of practical tools to support the uptake of FAIRdata related skills in university curricula at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. As highlighted by the EOSC Executive Board Skills and Training Working Group, a comprehensive skills and education strategy is crucial to ensuring the mainstreaming of Open Science practices at institutional level, and for the broader objectives and ambitions of EOSC. As part of the FAIRsFAIR project, a mapping exercise showed how universities need clear guidance and tools to tackle the absence of skills and training related to FAIR research data. So the project partners developed the adoption handbook ‘How to be FAIR with your data: a teaching and training handbook for higher education institutions’, which gives universities ready-to-use materials to support the implementation of new opportunities for FAIR education.
Since 2020, EUA has been an observer to the EOSC Association (EOSC-A) and is a member of the EOSC-A’s Task Force on Research Careers, Recognition and Credit. Fostering the active engagement of universities with EOSC is a key action point on the EUA Open Science Agenda 2025. EUA recently developed a Platform for EOSC-A to bring members closer to EOSC and its Association’s activities. This aims to facilitate information exchange and experience sharing between EUA members who are also EOSC-A members and observers.
Results presented in this report and the broader EUA 2020-2021 Open Science Survey report show universities are increasingly aware of the need to provide the policies, infrastructure and skills required to manage and potentially share research data. However challenges still prevent the implementation of (FAIR) research data practices at institutional level. This report therefore provides recommendations for universities, and outlines the potential next steps and emerging issues that EUA will address as part of its efforts to support universities in fostering the uptake of (FAIR) research data management practices and their engagement with EOSC.
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