European commission is forming a renewed European Research Area ERA, aiming to develop research, innovation, and technology in the EU and facilitating collaboration across the member states in support of excellent science and responding to the societal, environmental and economic challenges (Europa.eu).
The reform policy agenda consists of 20 actions (European Commission 2021), varying from emphasizing and supporting open science to promoting gender equality and inclusiveness as well as academic freedom in Europe. Action 3 deals with reforming the assessment of research and researchers. In particular, it states:
This action will facilitate changes so that the quality, performance and impact of research and researchers are assessed on the basis of more appropriate criteria and processes. This also includes rewarding open science practices in terms of open collaboration and early knowledge and data sharing, leading to increased quality, efficiency and trust. A reformed system should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the diversity of countries, disciplines, research cultures, research maturity levels, missions of institutions, and career paths. (European Commission 2021).
This is dramatically changing the evaluation systems for researchers in traditional universities as their assessment and promotional criteria have mainly (not exclusively) been emphasizing quantitative measures, such as journal rankings and impact factors. While it might imply less drastic change for UASs as our RDI activities have not been evaluated with quantitative measures earlier, it is still less clear how we need to develop illustration of the quality and impact of RDI outcomes in line with the ERA reform.
So, if reforming of the system is not implying a dramatic change for UASs, why should we care? We can think of at least four reasons for this at both the level of the institution and the level of the individual researcher.
From the institutional perspective, in addition to valuing RDI quality and impact, increased importance of teaching and close collaboration with the business and society are especially suitable for us as UAS. Hence, these changes put more systemic focus on what we value, changing the assessment in other types of organizations. This enables UASs to become an even more integral part of the European HEI and RDI system. What is becoming more valued is already in our DNA. Perhaps changing the system also facilitates us as UASs becoming more attractive as a home institution for researchers, much more than a traditional research context.
Second, being active in the EU-level development provides us an opportunity to stay on the curve or even ahead of the curve when the reform is made and learn from more RDI-experienced institutions. This also means that we have the opportunity to affect the content of the reform to ensure that our point of view as a UAS is taken into consideration when the system is being developed to recognize the diversity of institutions and their missions.
From the individual perspective, this provides an opportunity to formally get recognized and merited for the RDI work we at UASs do – qualitative assessment of the RDI outputs as well as valuing of the business and societal impact will be explicit parts of researcher assessment. This is fully in line with the values that we have. Furthermore, it puts as more on the same line with more academic researchers when applying for jobs and perhaps also funding in the future. Therefore, we consider the research assessment reform at EU level more as an opportunity than threat for the Finnish UASs.
In relation to this, as of beginning of December 2022 roughly 400 European universities, research institutes, national organizations, and funding agencies among others have signed up to join the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment CoARA. The coalition aims to advance higher quality, more impactful and more efficient and inclusive research system in a collaborative manner by developing new research and researcher assessment criteria, methods and tools, and a platform for co-development of good practices and mutual learning.
Roughly 20 Finnish higher education institutions, including Haaga-Helia, Laurea, and Metropolia, have decided to join the coalition. This means that we will have the opportunity to take part in the development of implementation of the reform.
Surely, the development of the new assessment system challenges RDI-work and RDI-actors but we as 3UAS strategic alliance are a remarkable RDI-player in the Finnish context to lead the way to others as well.
Stay tuned – more information and updates about the development will be published in the coming months!