2 September 2019

Utrecht University signs 'San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment'

Utrecht University signs the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. DORA is aimed at assessing research and researchers by focusing less on bibliometric indicators (such as publications and citations) and more on other criteria.

This was announced by President of the Executive Board, Anton Pijpers at the Start of the Academic Year in Utrecht.

Utrecht University endorses the principles of the DORA declaration and will adapt its own procedures accordingly. "Signing  DORA is not a purely symbolic step. It’s a ‘pledge’ for which UU can be held accountable”,  Pijpers said in his speech (pdf).

Signing  the DORA declaration is part of a broader approach to stimulate Open Science and   find new  ways to recognize and value university staff. This matches  this  year’s theme of the Start of the Academic Year.

“Cold blooded culture”

UU professor and Young Academy chairman Belle Derks stated in her speech (pdf) that it is a very important subject. A narrow focus on individual research performance leads to a “cold-blooded culture” in which talent is wasted. Derks: "There seems to be a gap between the image we researchers think we have to comply with in order to be valued, and the kind of researchers that most of us actually are. We learn that in order to climb higher on the academic ladder, we must focus first and foremost on our individual academic performance and on angling for person-oriented research grants. And yet many of us are researchers who want to contribute to a bigger picture, who value good collaboration with our colleagues and who are committed to good teaching.”

Stan Gielen of NWO, in his keynote speech (pdf) specifically dealt with the assessment of research. He stated that research funders and knowledge institutions should explicitly put their own house in order. As an example, he mentioned that the number of subsidies obtained is often used as a criterion to determine the quality of a research proposal or research group.

“At many universities, the awarding of an externally-funded project leads to an extra financial contribution to a faculty or research group, and successful acquisition is usually a prerequisite for promotion. Increasingly, therefore, the primary driver of research grant applications is a financial or personal interest. The means (namely a grant application to be able to do good research) is thus elevated to become the end. You can’t blame researchers for playing this ‘game’, if I can call it that: their future depends on it.”

According to Gielen, the Van Rijn Commission recently stated that the funding model for education based on student numbers had given rise to perverse incentives and was encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’. “I would say that connecting a financial or personal interest to successful research funding applications is another perverse incentive. It’s a catch-22 situation, and young researchers are its main victims.”

Open Science

In her speech (pdf), Annetje Ottow, Vice-President of the Executive Board and Port-holder of Human Resources, indicated that a change is needed. The emphasis should be more on team performance, with room for  a diversity of qualities and contributions of different people. Anton Pijpers referred to the Open Science work programme under the leadership of Frank Miedema. Promoting open access publishing within the framework of PlanS, is an important part of this. To this end, it is also necessary to adjust the evaluation criteria for research results. As a result, a working group under the leadership of Paul Boselie has recently been set up within the Open Science Programme. Pijpers stated that Utrecht University wants to play a pioneering role in the search for a new system. "It is precisely cooperation and team spirit that will take us further."