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Caught My Eye by Katina: ‘We owe it to society to make science more accessible’

by | Jan 3, 2022 | 0 comments

We owe it to society to make science more accessible

appears in The Chronicle of Higher education and is presented by Utrecht University.


Sharing Science, Shaping TomorrowThis is the new motto of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Yet another flashy slogan? Maybe, but the convictions and actions behind it sound clear and determined. In Utrecht they see being open as one of its biggest and most important missions, because they believe that solutions for the complex global issues we are facing can only be found by welcoming other perspectives, by joining forces, and by sharing knowledge.

But how do you share science when you are functioning in a deep-rooted system that can hardly be characterized as being open?A system in which competition has the upper hand and scientific information is often hidden behind expensive paywalls.

“Quite a challenge indeed,” admits Jeroen Sondervan who is an open access expert at Utrecht University. “But a challenge we are happy and confident to take on.

We feel we owe it to society to make science more widely accessible and to further increase its reliability. To be able to do this, transformations in scholarly communication are needed. And at Utrecht we don’t tend to sit back and wait for others to start changing.

I think it is safe to say that Utrecht was one of the first universities to set up a comprehensive Open Science Programme, stimulating and facilitating academics to put open science into practice. The programme consists of four tracks, one of which is Open Access. We believe that everyone – not just the big western knowledge institutes that can afford expensive journal subscriptions – should have full access to and benefit from research funded by public means. Our goal is therefore to reach no less than one hundred percent open access (OA) publishing. This is not out of philanthropy, nor something we pat ourselves on the back for. It is as much self-interest, because we know that if we want a sustainable future, we will have to share and collaborate with others.”

Individual scientists

The university’s goals for and motivation behind open access publishing are all very well, but what about individual scientists who do the actual publishing? What consequences are there for them when they have to change their ways and publish in open journals?

It is not something Koen Leurs, Assistant Professor at Utrecht University in the field of gender, media and migration, is in the least bit worried about. “On the contrary. Metrics of my work show that my open access publications have been downloaded, read and cited a lot more than those published in closed journals. This visibility has facilitated some fruitful contacts and partnerships and, among other things, has contributed to being selected as a fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS).

These personal outcomes are of course very pleasant, but above all, I attach great value to the circulation and global accessibility of my work. Not only for the benefit of other academics, but also because I want students to be able to use it. And I often work with non-mainstream communities like migrants, young people, and refugees. Generally they don’t have subscriptions to scholarly journals or the means to buy costly academic books, so I always make sure to share my findings with them. Barriers to accessing knowledge should just be taken down as much as possible.”

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