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Pro-Vice-Provost’s View

Paul Ayris13 June 2019

Visit of Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

On Thursday 13 June 2019, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, visited UCL with members of his cabinet.

The purpose of the Commissioner’s presence was to re-visit those European universities to which he feels especial affinity. He leaves his position in the autumn of 2019 once the new European Commission takes office.

As Pro-Vice-Provost with a responsibility for co-ordinating Open Science across UCL, I was asked to address him in the Provost’s Office to outline the success that UCL has had in introducing Open Science practice across the institution. I also highlighted the challenges in Europe in moving to embrace Open Science principles. This is the text which I used in my talk, sitting next to the Commissioner as I spoke.


  1. UCL Press is the UK’s first fully OA University Press. We have published 106 monographs with over 2 million downloads – when conventional sales over the bookshop counter might result in 200 sales per title. Our most downloaded book is from Professor Danny Miller in Anthropology in UCL, How the World Changed Social Media, which has been downloaded over 300,000 times. This shows the transformative effect of OA monograph publishing.
  2. We have also launched a megajournal platform – with the first subject section being the Environment. This has Open Peer review and the submission is made available immediately as Green OA in a Pre-Print repository prior to peer review and final publication.
  3. We have just launched our Open UCL Research Data repository for academics to archive their research data for sharing and re-use.
  4. UCL Discovery is the institutional OA repository. We monitor OA compliance from the Faculties on a monthly basis and have compliance rates as high as 90%. UCL Discovery has just passed the 20 million download mark.
  5. From 2000-2016, Digital Science has shown that UCL is consistently the university in the Russell Group in the UK most engaged with OA.
  6. We have also launched a pilot Open Educational Resources repository to collect educational materials for sharing and re-use.
  7. We have a pan-UCL Open Science governance platform, which monitors the introduction of Open Science principles and practices across the institution; and we lead work in Open Science in LERU (League of European Research Universities).
  8. UCL is one of the first universities anywhere in Europe to include Open Access to publications, research data and software, as a core principle in our academic promotions framework. This policy was signed off and published in 2018.

Challenges and how UCL can help  

  1. Academic concerns with Plan S, not with Open Access, threaten to de-rail the advances made across Europe in Open Science practice. We would like to support Plan S by working with the Commission and others to make Alternative Publishing Platforms, on the model of UCL Press, a reality across Europe.
  2. Those who manage the European Open Science Cloud have not engaged with universities, indeed they ignore my calls for collaboration. UCL would like to work with the EOSC to determine rules of engagement for universities. We have considerable experience, running the DART-Europe portal for OA research theses, which aggregates metadata for 619 universities and provides access to over 800,000 full-text research theses in 28 countries.
  3. The Commission’s Open Science Policy Platform work on Next Generation Metrics is badly stalled and needs a kick for it to produce a set of Recommendations which can be embraced by the global academy. UCL could help as we are out to informal consultation on an institutional Bibliometrics policy, grounded in Open Science principles.
  4. UCL is attempting, with LERU and other partners, to build a pan-European community for Open Science; the Commission could help by providing opportunities for seed funding to encourage growth in community engagement. Open Science, after all, is about people not just principles and practice.

I gave the Commissioner a gift bag from UCL Press containing, amongst other things, a copy of Danny Miller’s How the World Changed Social Media, the most downloaded book from UCL Press. The Commissioner has asked me to follow up with him and his team on a number of the issues I raised. I will certainly be doing that.

Paul Ayris

Pro-Vice-Provost (UCL Library Services)

The Director’s View: European Open Science Cloud

Paul Ayris12 October 2016

Sharing in an Open environment

One of my duties in UCL Library Services is to represent this university in LERU, the League of European Research Universities. In that capacity, I am a member of the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on an exciting new initiative – the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

11 October saw the publication of our first Report, which can be found here. The  Recommendations provide a solid starting point for further reflection and engagement of scientific user communities, research funders and Member States in the making of this global initiative. This is important for UCL Library Services because research data management  and support for open access to publications are a big new agenda in how we can support our users.

EOSCEOSC aims to accelerate and support the current transition to more effective Open Science and Open Innovation in the Digital Single Market. It should enable trusted access to services, systems and the re-use of shared scientific data across disciplinary, social and geographical borders. The term cloud is understood by the EOSC High Level Expert Group as a metaphor to help convey both seamlessness and the idea of a commons based on existing and emerging elements in the Member States, with light-weight international guidance and governance and a large degree of freedom regarding practical implementation. The EOSC is indeed a European infrastructure, but it should be globally interoperable and accessible. It includes the required human expertise, resources, standards, and best practices as well as underpinning technical infrastructures. An important aspect of the EOSC is systematic and professional data management and long-term stewardship of scientific data assets and services in Europe and globally. However, data stewardship is not a goal in itself and the final realm of the EOSC is the frontier of science and innovation in Europe [Realising the European Open Science Cloud. First Report of the Commission’s High Level Expert Group on the European Open Science Cloud, p. 6].

Now the Report is published, the Expert Group is following up with how we make this Cloud a reality. Exciting and challenging times.

Paul Ayris

Director of UCL Library Services

The Director’s View: European Open Science Cloud

Paul Ayris29 June 2016

EOSC – European Open Science Cloud

On 20 June 2016 the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on the European Open Science Cloud, of which I am a member, published its draft Report. This is the product of months of deliberation and discussion amongst the Group’s international membership.

The UNIMAIL, University of Geneva

The UNIMAIL, University of Geneva

The aim of the Report is to look at the emerging concept of Open Research (known rather confusingly in English as Open Science) and to see how European countries can work on this collaboratively. Open Science covers many different topics – the two most prominent ones are Open Access to publications and Research Data Management, with a preference for Open Data. UCL is seen as a European leader in Open Access. With our EU-funded LEARN project, we are aiming to do the same for Research Data.

As Professor Barend Mons, our Chair, has written in the Preface to the Report:

‘The title of this first report may have a slightly threatening ring to it and indeed, if we do not act, there might be a looming crisis on the Horizon. The vast majority of all data in the world (in fact up to 90%) has been generated in the last two years. Computers have long surpassed individuals in their ability to perform pattern recognition over large data sets. Scientific data is in dire need of openness, better handling, careful management, machine actionability and sheer re-use. One of the sobering conclusions of our consultations was that research infrastructure and communication appear to be stuck in the 20th century paradigm of data scarcity. We should see this step-change in science as an enormous opportunity and not as a threat. The EOSC is a positive ‘Cloud on the Horizon’ to be realised by 2020. Ultimately, actionable knowledge and translation of its benefits to society will be handled by humans in the ‘machine era’ for decades to come, machines are just made to serve us.

But let’s not ignore the facts: the science system is in landslide transition from data-sparse to data-saturated. Meanwhile, scholarly communication, data management methodologies, reward systems and training curricula do not adapt quickly enough if at all to this revolution. Researchers, funders and publishers (I always thought that meant making things public) keep each other hostage in a deadly embrace by continuing to conduct, publish, fund and judge science in the same way as in the past century.

So far, no-one seems to be able to break this deadlock. Open Access articles are indispensable but solve only a fraction of the problem. Neither ‘open research data’ alone will do. We still try to press petabytes of results in length-restricted narrative, effectively burying them behind firewalls or in supplementary data behind decaying hyperlinks and then trying to mine them back again. Computers hate ambiguous human language and love structured, machine actionable data, while machine readable data are a turnoff for the human mind. As computers have become indispensable research assistants, we better make what we publish understandable to them. We need both in concert to form social machines; in order to do pattern recognition in complex, interlinked data as well as confirmational studies on methodology and rhetorics in plain understandable human language.

We hope that this report will be part of a game-changing effort of all European Member States and our international partners towards true Open Science.’

Paul Ayris
Director of UCL Library Services