Column Karl Dittrich: "knowledge is the answer"

14 October 2015

Research universities are both strong supporters and contributors to the European project. Research and innovation are cornerstones for Europe. The need to create new knowledge and to find ways to put this to good use is key for jobs, growth, and social cohesion. Our competition, all over the world, is not sitting on its hands. Our answer is our most valuable European asset: knowledge.

Building new knowledge from curiosity driven research, applied research, and innovation has to be a truly European endeavour. In order to make a real difference on a global scale we have to continuously strive for excellence. Although we see political division growing in Europe, close cooperation in the field of higher education and research can make a difference.

Together we make an effort to accomplish the European Area of Higher Education (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA). This is in the interest of Europe, but also in our own interest as research universities. Still much needs to be done to make student and researcher mobility a realistic option for all. In addition, universities and other knowledge institutions are in need of more advocacy to show their impact and contribution to society. They must, however, also get recognition for this from politics, including adequate funding. Indeed we have a long road ahead to reach freedom of knowledge as the fifth pillar of Europe. To accomplish this, more and better cooperation throughout Europe between our universities is key. Therefore, I would like to highlight two areas of common interest for which the Dutch research universities are making a case.

Horizon 2020 supports our research and innovation cooperation at a scale like we have never seen before. It has excellence as core value, striving for excellence in science and innovation as a quality to be found all over Europe, not limited to any geographical area. However, the quality of research and innovation is not evenly spread around Europe, which results in pockets of excellence. Consequently, there is an innovation divide in Europe. We have to stop the brain drain from the newer member states and turn this into brain circulation. We have to find possibilities for the common development of talent, and we have to open new worlds for our staff and students.

Precisely because of this, our research universities are actively engaging in finding partners under the Horizon 2020 programme widening participation and spreading excellence. A series of seminars and networking events have been organised in cooperation with Neth-ER. The next edition will take place on October 15th and is intended as a networking opportunity where good practices will be shared. In short, we will discuss what the secrets of success are.

The arrival of the Internet radically enhanced the opportunities for disseminating scientific knowledge. Digitisation has meant that potentially anyone with Internet access can benefit from new scientific insights. Open access aims to make findings from scientific research (particularly that which is financed through public funding) freely available online to as many people as possible. This also benefits innovation. Dutch universities strongly support open access and have been working to achieve it in various ways over the past few years, for example by negotiating 'big deals' with publishers of scientific journals.

The Netherlands may be a small country, but it has an excellent scientific sector and a good ICT infrastructure. It therefore has a strong position which allows it to make a first step in the field of open access. Given the percentage of publications in the international context, open access is a realistic proposition for publishers as the current situation, where publicly funded research is not openly accessible, simply cannot continue. This also holds true for other European universities and research institutions, which is the reason why the open access-agenda is part of ERA. From our side we will seek active cooperation with European partners to attain open access. The topic will also be taken up during the Dutch presidency of the EU in 2016.

The examples above demonstrate that in the Netherlands we know that such results can only be obtained by an open research culture in which networking with excellent researchers all over the world comes natural. The Dutch research community is proud of its achievements and puts great effort in giving opportunities to staff and students to develop themselves in a culture of trust, creativity, and encouragement for developing new ideas.

All our research universities are prominent in the top 250 THE-ranking, to name but one. More than one third of our research staff originate from another country. International research cooperation is a must for all. We strongly feel that cooperation should be based on realistic ambitions, clear choices from the partners involved, and always with a long-term perspective.

We are looking forward to build on strong partnerships and engaging in new ones all over Europe.

Karl Dittrich
President Association of universities in the Netherlands, VSNU 

Meer informatie
Website: VSNU, Association of universities in the Netherlands
Website:  EUA, European University Association
Seminar Neth-ER:  Excellence without borders

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