On the 27th of September 2017 DIGITALEUROPE and the European University Association organised a workshop to discuss the meanings and implications of openness.
The open global economy has gone through better times. For decades, the common hope was that an open, rules-based, international order would foster wide-spread prosperity and ensure progress. And it did, to a point. Supranational institutions like the EU or multilateral organisations like the WTO bear witness to the amazing accomplishments resulting from tearing down barriers and playing by agreed rules. Today international trade is more shaped through bilateral or plurilateral negotiations. More ominously, protectionism is gaining currency across the world. It is therefore of vital importance to reflect upon why exactly openness matters not only for business but for the circulation of ideas on which our future depends. In turn, this will feed the arguments that an open world is a prerequisite for our knowledge-powered societies to steer the right course.
The European University Association (EUA) and DIGITALEUROPE have joined forces to explore this set of issues by hosting a workshop of the ‘Digital in Practice Programme’ series on 27 September 2017.
Director Education Policy, Teaching and Learning, Microsoft
Member of the European Parliament
Pro-Vice-Provost (UCL Library Services), University College London
Peter A. Wieringa
Vice-Rector, Delft University of Technology
Senior Policy Coordinator, EUA
Director at DIGITALEUROPE
What is openness all about?
Often portrayed as a culture or a state of mind, openness holds more than one facet:
– Openness as international collaboration on which ever more complex research is extremely dependent. Researchers – particularly those in early stage – need to move around and work in different teams in order to be part of the global research community. Rising nationalism is a real threat to this development.
– Openness as open science: the growing impact of research and innovation on society combined with revolutionary changes in sharing ability make it a democratic imperative that citizens are afforded access to results and possibilities to contribute within applicable copyright framework.
– Openness as inclusiveness: everyone having a right to proper education to fulfil their civic, cultural and professional potential, universities need to be more inclusive than ever, a development that is not always given proper attention in Brussels.
What’s the fuss about openness?
Openness remains a core European value, but the lack of digital skills is a direct threat. Digital education is not only meant to secure jobs or business competitiveness: indeed democracy needs the active participation of citizens to thrive, and it will not happen without allocating adequate resources to education and training. Shaping the character of citizens is more and more of concern to governments and education-minded industries alike. In other words, the fact that 40% of Europeans are digital illiterates is only the tip of a huge, more threatening iceberg made up of democracy-illiterates.
Closer to technology, we need to bend the EU’s normative ecosystem to boost our innovation capacity. Problem-solving is a key tool to this effect, and most educational systems do not include this approach. We should take advantage of it urgently, not stick to obsolete frameworks. The copyright reform, and particularly its TDM piece, bear witness to the high stakes we are facing and to the necessity to change course.
The Battle Royal of research?
Open Science is the big battle in today’s research policy. Construed on the continent as all-inclusive – as opposed to a narrower definition in the UK -, it is definitely transformative. In the case of publishing, the difference is between a publication that sells 200 copies and one that reaches 200,000 downloads online. Likewise, the printing press revolution heralded the transformation of society for good, and less good occasionally. The same holds true for Open Science. While all will agree that truth knows no boundaries, not everybody is happy to share, for instance, data supporting a piece of research lest they might feed opposite conclusions! More generally, in the ocean of Open Knowledge, a few islands should stay closed, or at least open up only upon careful consideration: medical data, security and defence, vulnerable population like minors, etc. In our increasingly competitive world, reciprocity is also a parameter on opening your books.
Research also needs an international labour market. Already at the university, the share of foreign PhD candidates are well into double digits – often close to 30 % – in countries with high spending on research. Immigration is therefore instrumental to these countries, universities and related research-intensive companies.
Knowledge has been curiosity-powered from the outset. The difference with knowledge-intensive economies is that knowledge calls the shots and drives investment. The key in play in this context is to make available a platform where to share ideas: state-of-the-art infrastructure featuring open standards of access is a prerequisite for truly effective Open Knowledge. Think of GEANT or the European Open Science Cloud initiative, for example.
The more Big Data-based, the more open the world of academia should be. Indeed, as demonstrated throughout this workshop, ICT-enabled research and education is not an end in itself: it works as a game-changer on every walk of life, regardless of geography, age or social class. Europe has all that it takes to lead the world, assuming that we keep up with our centuries-old traditions of openness.