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New Data Statement endorsed by European Universities

16 December 2021

Dr Paul Ayris, Pro-Vice-Provost LCCOS (Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science) chaired the LERU Working Group which produced the Statement.

Student at desk, wearing a face mask

Data is the oil which increasingly drives economic, academic and social developments across the globe. Universities have an important role to play in the data landscape. They are keepers of a common culture of knowledge and an agent of new knowledge. However, universities have become increasingly dependent on dominant platform companies that are a driving force in the design of public universities’ learning and teaching environments. Platform companies define and steer universities’ digital architectures through hardware and software technologies, leading to user- and vendor- lock-in. Such developments threaten institutional autonomy and academic freedom and damage the role of the university in society.

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has put forward a Data Statement to tackle the increasing dependence by universities on dominant platform companies and to provide clarity to help restore universities’ independence. The Statement highlights challenges in the data landscape and suggests solutions. Five groups of stakeholders are addressed: legislators, digital providers, individuals in universities, universities, and industry.

Based on these principles, LERU calls upon all stakeholders covered in this Data Statement to draft and develop measures comprising both infrastructure and, if and when necessary, legislation which supports:

  1. public storage and access to research data organised by universities and public infrastructures;
  2. freely accessible university research publications, all underlying data, algorithms, metadata and software tools, with no embargo;
  3. university input and control over digital learning and research tools, such as productivity tools, learning environments, video conferencing. These tools should be supplied partly as public infrastructure and partly through collaboration with platform companies.

The Statement was endorsed at the LERU Rectors Assembly in November 2021. Dr Ayris, who chaired the working group, said:

 “At UCL we have developed new ways to make our research and educational resources openly accessible, but there is a lot more the sector can do to tackle its dependence on platform companies. This Statement provides an important series of principles to ensure universities across Europe can continue to work autonomously, not locked in to commercial services nor to legislation which does not work in a university context.”

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