A partnership that aims to deliver a new way of working for science has been forged between the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU), the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and Elsevier. The partnership includes publishing and reading services for Dutch research institutions. As a result, 95 percent of Dutch articles can be made immediately open access. The agreement also covers access to all Elsevier content.
What’s significant about this agreement is that the parties involved worked in partnership to carefully develop a collaboration that will shape new open science services in the Netherlands. The country has a notable heritage in higher education spanning hundreds of years. The QS World University Rankings 2019 includes 13 universities in the Netherlands, all within the world's top 350 and seven in the top 150 — a testament to the strong international reputation of Dutch institutions. To help the country remain at the forefront of research in the decades to come, this partnership includes the development of open science services related to research intelligence and scholarly communication, making it the first such agreement of its kind. Open Science aims to make science more open, reproducible, inclusive and collaborative.
We caught up with Gino Ussi, Executive VP of Research Solutions Sales at Elsevier, to discuss the implications of the partnership.
When details of the partnership were first released in a Memorandum of Understanding late last year, VSNU’s chief-negotiator, Tim van der Hagen, described it as “the beginning of a new way of working for science.” Does that reflect your own thinking?
It does. As I recall from Tim’s comments in December, he mentioned that the partnership puts universities “in the driving seat of what’s important for science in the future,” and that’s really key for me. The institutions we were talking with – VSNU, NFU and NWO – were very clear on what they wanted to achieve, so for us it was about looking at their goals, the aspirations they had for open access and open science, and their vision for a more collaborative, reproducible, transparent and inclusive way of doing research. We will work side by side with them on a range of national open science services to help disseminate and recognize knowledge.
As we understand it, this is the first time a partnership of this nature has been set up, so we’re all extremely excited to embark on this journey.
What exactly makes the partnership special?
I think it comes back to that idea of putting the universities in the driving seat. Two of the four key principles behind the partnership are that the services will be interoperable and that it will be vendor neutral. So researchers and institutions can also use their own tools and won’t be limited to one vendor.
The interoperability means it can work with tools developed elsewhere, and vendor neutrality means that third parties – public and private – can join the partnership and add their expertise.
A third key principle is that universities will remain owners of their research data – which reflects the approach we take on platforms like Mendeley Data. The collaboration principles also provide for institutional discretion on the use of services. As Tim articulated, it’s universities in the driving seat and we at Elsevier providing the insights and expertise to help them reach their destination.
The initial discussions were about publishing open access in Elsevier’s research journals. How did we get from that to discussing a new way of doing open science?
As I see it, open science is about a transition to a new, more open and participatory way of conducting, publishing and evaluating scholarly research. That means by using digital technologies and new collaborative tools, we can together help make knowledge creation and dissemination more efficient, increasing cooperation, reproducibility and transparency at all stages of research. And open access is a part of that. The Netherlands has an ambition to reach 100 percent immediate open access, so naturally that was a significant objective. Part of the agreement also stipulates that we at Elsevier continue to drive for full immediate open access across all titles. We already offer this for almost all our 2,500 journals, and we’re working to extend this to our entire portfolio.
Once we got to discussing why open access was so important, it led on to this broader discussion about openness and cooperation, and we knew that we could go further. So the agreement covers the point that 100 percent of Dutch articles can be published open access and includes full access to subscription content, even beyond the institutions’ previous subscriptions. But we know we need to do more – hence this element of pilot programs that look at the open science services in the Netherlands.
What happens when you increase cooperation and openness in science?
I think the COVID-19 pandemic has shown with crystal clarity the importance of open cooperation when it comes to scientific endeavors among governments, research institutions and industry. We’ve seen the power of what the research and public health communities can achieve when there is frictionless collaboration. We’ve seen articles peer reviewed and published extremely rapidly, clinical trials move forward at an unprecedented pace, and global initiatives pulled together quickly.
Just recently, I was reading about a doctor in India who used one of our portals to identify relevant experts to collaborate with to keep a clinical trial moving in several countries. Now we won’t always have these circumstances where everyone is focused on the same challenge to this degree, but it does show how much impact a collaborative approach can have.
We didn’t set this partnership up because of the pandemic – it’s been in the works for much longer than that – but VSNU, NFU, NWO and Elsevier all understood that an approach anchored in collaboration and shared values would have tremendous benefits for research.
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