Towards a 2030 vision on the future of universities in Europe
The study assignment, “Towards a 2030 Vision on the Future of Universities in Europe” was commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD). It was undertaken by the Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services LLP (CSES), supported a team of high-level experts composed of academics and ex-academics.
This study is an independent consultancy study report. The report required close consultation with key stakeholders as part of a participatory process. The Vision and transformation modules were developed in liaison with key stakeholders. Two stakeholder workshops took place in Brussels, followed by a validation webinar. There was then further consultation with key university networks.
In addition, a Steering Group consisting of different Commission policy units from DG RTD and DG Education and Culture (DG EAC) actively guided and participated in the consultation process through four Steering Group meetings. Its members provided inputs to ensure that existing EU policy and programming initiatives were reflected, given the need to ensure that future EU support builds on current and previous support.
Europe’s university landscape comprises more than 5000 universities, and is characterised by its heterogeneity. The Vision provides an enabling, non-prescriptive framework, which recognises the imperative of maintaining the autonomy of universities, and ensuring the principle of academic freedom. It also embodies the values provided in EU primary legislation, which will underpin the Vision’s implementation.
Accordingly, the Vision – and the transformation modules that underpin it – need to be flexible enough to accommodate differences between universities. These include the degree of emphasis on their different missions (e.g. educational, teaching, research and innovation, societal), the extent of their existing contribution and future capacity to contribute to excellent science, and their different disciplinary and inter-disciplinary strengths. Reflecting this diversity, the Vision seeks to support universities and to enable them to autonomously determine their own developmental needs and pathways towards the achievement of the 2030 Vision.
Given that the Vision covers a broad range of issues, challenges and opportunities for universities between now and 2030, an effort was made to build a consensus among stakeholders. However, whilst the analysis presented in the report has been closely informed by desk research, stakeholder events and feedback from the university networks, there are divergent viewpoints in some areas. This reflects different viewpoints among different types of universities in Europe and variance in the baseline situation in terms of how strong particular universities are in the research and innovation domain already, and what progress remains.
As such, the study represents the authors’ best efforts to establish a degree of consensus on the main priorities for universities in Europe.
In parallel with the publication of the revitalised 2020 ERA Communication (September 2020), this report is designed to provide inspiration for the development of an EU policy framework on the future of universities in the fields of research and innovation. The study therefore provides an important starting point to inform the policy debate on a possible follow-up Communication on the Future of Universities in Europe to 2030 in 2021. This could set out in greater detail how Europe might best support and further enable universities’ ongoing transformations, building on the section of the new ERA Communication which addresses this topic.
The study team would like to thank all stakeholders for their active participation and engagement in the debate.
Mark Whittle, CSES, Team leader. 28th September, 2020.
4.7 TM6: Knowledge-driven universities in the context of digital changes – the transition to open science (through FAIR and open data) and Open Access
4.8 TM7: Optimising universities’ role in research infrastructures.
6. Summary of key issues and Strategic Recommendations
6.2 Strategic recommendations
The 2030 Vision and transformation modules in the main report contain a longlist of different suggested actions that could be implemented at three different levels (1) EU level (2) national level in the Member States and (3) university level. As the Vision will be implemented over a decade, stakeholders at these three different governance levels could engage in a process of ongoing dialogue in the coming years to help to prioritise support actions that could make the greatest difference to universities’ ongoing transformations.
A number of strategic recommendations have been developed, which integrate some of the most important actions. Where possible, an effort is made to link the recommendations to the legal base.
Many of these focus on support actions that address more than one module in parallel, reflecting the cross-cutting and mutually-supportive nature of the modules and actions identified. These could be mutually reinforcing in supporting the Vision’s effective implementation. The main transformation module concerned (where appropriate) – and linkages with other modules – are therefore indicated where appropriate in brackets.
Recommendation 13.1 (TM4 and TM6): Reform researcher career assessment.
There should be balanced assessment based on the full spectrum of a researchers’ capabilities in a manner relevant to career stage and position sought and other relevant contextual factors, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to researcher career assessment. The assessment should take into account, depending on contextual factors, research output; the research process (including Open Science, stakeholder engagement/citizen science, collaboration and interdisciplinarity and research integrity); service and leadership; research impact (including communication & dissemination, IP exploitation and open knowledge exchange with non-academic partners); teaching and supervision; and other professional experiences.
Recommendation 14 (TM5, TM6): Secure stronger engagement by more universities and researchers in citizen science.
This could help firstly to maximise the societal impacts of research, including EU-funded research, and secondly to contribute to open science and strengthen scientific literacy among citizens and politicians. Moreover:
- Citizen science is a means of increasing the collective capabilities and scope of research and ensuring the ongoing relevance of research to society and scientific literacy of the population, which is important to maintain public trust and to strengthen public interest in science and research.
- Direct engagement of citizens in research, in turn, could have a positive effect on the perception of the usefulness of science and the uptake of innovation in society. This has wide-ranging impacts as EU citizens become more directly involved in research from conceptualisation through to implementation, assessment and impact. Opening the university towards society in this manner would also broaden interest among young people in pursuing research and scientific careers, and widen the audience for research papers, especially when combined with open access and open data policies to scientific outputs produced by universities.
- Strengthening citizen engagement in research supports teams and projects by increasing the resources to shape research agendas, data collection, analysis, and research dissemination. The challenges related to conducting citizen science should however be explicitly acknowledged, especially those related to the ownership of research outcomes, and responsibility for the integrity of the research process.
Recommendation 16 (TM6 and TM4): Empower more universities in Europe to embrace and adopt Open Science, and to pursue open access and open data policies, drawing on existing EU investments.
The move towards Open Science brings complex challenges for universities which will not only need to open up their data and services but will also have to connect with other to combine these across disciplines. A challenge will be to develop interoperable, FAIR standards across disciplines. Researchers practising Open Science will need to be recognised, incentivised and rewarded though a reform of recruitment and career progression methods (OS-CAM).
Recommendation 16.1 (TM6): Foster and accelerate the access to research outputs and facilitate cross-disciplinary and AI-enhanced research that can address the societal challenges of our times.
Universities can support the transition to Open Science by promoting and rewarding the publishing of research outputs in open journals and platforms as well as the FAIRification and opening of research data sets. Dedicated support for researchers is needed at universities in the form of open access policies, data management plans, and (FAIR) data stewardship.
Recommendation 16.2 (TM6 and TM4): Provide training for researchers at all levels (R1-R4) in the practice of open science.
In order to facilitate the practice of open science, researchers will need training in a range of skills, including open access publishing, open peer review, open data and FAIR data management, open access to other research outputs, and efficient access to open knowledge. In addition, researchers need training regarding ethics and research integrity, and also on practices to ensure the reproducibility of results, as well as societal engagement including citizen science. This training will be critical to enable researchers to deal with IPR and GDPR issues in an open science context.
Recommendation 20: (TM7). Strengthen the management of universities’ Research Infrastructures (RI) in Europe.
- Recommendation 20.1: An inventory should be carried out to identify national legislation that prohibits universities to own, manage and operate infrastructures. Any legal barriers to universities owning, managing and operating RIs should be removed.
- Recommendation 20.2: Deliver and maintain scientific excellence and secure appropriate, stable funding for the long-term sustainability of RIs across Europe. Acknowledging the role of universities, especially research universities, in delivering excellence is crucial.
- Recommendation 20.3: Research universities should be encouraged design institutional infrastructure roadmaps and to professionalise their management and operation of infrastructures through the sharing of best practices. As part of this process, universities should be encouraged to align their infrastructure cycles with those at national, European and global levels.
- Recommendation 20.4: Sustainable governance of RIs has to be ensured through long-term vision and national funding commitments to complement EU funding. National authorities should also be encouraged to ensure that adequate national sources of funding are made available for this purpose. There has previously been a focus on using EU support to fund new RIs.
- Recommendation 20.5: However, special support actions might be needed to boost the optimal use by universities of EU funding programmes such as Horizon and ESIF. Universities should be given better guidance as to how to use EU funding from Horizon and ESIF more effectively to support the maintenance and/ or upgrading of their existing infrastructures. This could include exploring the scope to combine different funding sources where appropriate.
- Recommendation 20.6: Attracting highly-qualified researchers and staff to operate and maintain RIs will be key and national research and education systems should be strengthened and harmonised to ensure the right skills are available.
Recommendation 21: Access to research infrastructures in universities and to external infrastructures by researchers based at universities (e.g. owned by the private sector, research institutes) should be improved. This could include remote access. This could be achieved inter alia, by coordinating and synchronising roadmaps and RI business plans, Update the European Charter for Access to Research Infrastructures). Remote access to research infrastructures could also be considered, as some university networks (e.g. the University of the Seas) are already looking into this possibility.388
- Recommendation 21.1 (TM7): Foster the accessibility of state-of-the-art research infrastructures. To address the currently imbalanced utilisation of RIs and to maximise access, innovative and more effective means of coordinating and synchronising roadmaps and RI business plans should be organised. This should be supported by the promotion of multidisciplinary cooperation between universities and industry, the public sector and civil society, thereby exploiting the innovation potential of RIs. The virtual access for researchers to RIs, and the data sets and services they offer, can be further improved and facilitated by connecting and integrating RIs where applicable to the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).
- Recommendation 21.2 (TM7): Update the European Charter for Access to Research Infrastructures and provide EU support to help ensure its effective implementation at an institutional level, including the sharing of best practises on the management and operation of infrastructures at universities.
© European Union, 2020