The Berlin Declaration on Open Access was launched in 2003 and has now been signed by more than 400 organisations across the world. Its success – and the ongoing push to make knowledge open to all – was marked at the Berlin 11 conference in November; an eclectic two days of set piece presentations and radical manifestos in the heart of Berlin’s extraordinary architecture.
The Berlin Declaration is a set of straightforward principles for making the results of research in the sciences and humanities open. Here are the core concepts:
Establishing open access as a worthwhile procedure ideally requires the active commitment of each and every individual producer of scientific knowledge and holder of cultural heritage. Open access contributions include original scientific research results, raw data and metadata, source materials, digital representations of pictorial and graphical materials and scholarly multimedia material.
In essence, this is the principle that research, and knowledge, should be for the general public good. It also captures the time-honoured driver of academic work; we strive to get our work as widely known as possible, in return for the reputational benefits that come with citation and recognition. Copyright should be to protect the right of attribution, not to prevent access by requiring the payment of inappropriate fees that profit others.
The Berlin 11 meeting was full of juxtapositions; productive, thought-provoking, sometimes strange. First the building itself, the imposing, one-time home of the Prussian State Bank, pockmarked with bullet scars that no-one mentions. Five minutes away, the enclaved US Embassy next to the Brandenburg Gate, in the midst of a dispute with the German government over spying secrets – hardly a model for open access. The conference sessions; formal position statements from government officials (including David Willetts on UK policy) set against new student voices on emerging digital opportunities. All this reflects, I think, the productive chaos of a very rapid set of changes as technological innovation moves at ten times the speed of policy and as older publishing models become untenable, despite the best efforts of their beneficiaries to protect their interests.
Several of the perspectives and positions stood out for me. I liked Ulrich Poschl’s detailed account of the multi-stage open peer review model that’s been pioneered for some of the sciences. This will be well known to practitioners in Chemistry, Physics and allied disciplines, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for any field of enquiry.
A good example is the open access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, which has turned traditional, secretive and authoritarian peer-review on its head in the interests of open science (take a look at the journal’s web page, which describes the processes clearly). Ulrich suggests that the record of open peer review can be seen as an interpretive layer, above the formal record of the paper that’s archived in the digital repository – a further enhancement of the semantic Web.
About as different as possible was Marin Dacos’s “Manifesto for the Digital Humanities” – a kind of call to Paris’s digital barricades stemming from a “user-generated unconference” held last year:
“The digital humanities designate a “transdiscipline”, embodying all the methods, systems and heuristic perspectives linked to the digital within the fields of humanities and the social sciences … there are many communities deriving from shared interests in practices, tools, and various interdisciplinary goals – encoding textual sources, geographic information systems, lexicometry, digitisation of cultural, scientific and technical heritage, web cartography, datamining, 3D, oral archives, digital arts and hypermedia literatures, etc. – and that these communities are converging to form the field of digital humanities. … We call for the creation of scalable digital infrastructures responding to real needs. These digital infrastructures will be built iteratively, based upon methods and approaches that prove successful in research communities”.
And then there was Glyn Moody’s call for ZEN – “Zero Embargos Now” – which questioned the legitimacy of any publisher-imposed restriction on open access once publicly-funded research outcomes have been placed in a digital repository. This is a hot issue in the UK, following from the report of the Finch Group and the Commons’ Business Industry and Skills Committee criticisms of it (full disclosure – I was a member of the Finch Group).
What does this mean for a university like ours? A great deal, for every university where people are carrying out research and publishing the results. As everything moves on-line and as research issues become trans-disciplinary and increasingly complex, a great deal will depend on our ability to search widely and freely using highly sophisticated digital robots. If the knowledge we need gets locked down behind News Corp-style paywalls everyone working in a university will feel it, and will suffer.
Bernard Rentier, Rector of the University of Liège, showed what this “slow world” of pay-for-use knowledge could be like. His analysis indicated that, where there is no embargo or pay-to-view requirement for a research paper, citation rates increase by a factor of thirty. Given that citation rates are a reasonable proxy for the extent to which research results are accessed across the vastness of the digital world, that’s a very big difference.
Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities: http://openaccess.mpg.de/286432/Berlin-Declaration
Berlin Open Access Conference, November 2013: http://www.berlin11.org/
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics: http://www.atmospheric-chemistry-and-physics.net/
Manifesto for the Digital Humanities: http://tcp.hypotheses.org/411
Glyn Moody, “Open Enterprise” blog: http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/open-enterprise/
When I first visited our robotics group, just after I arrived in Salford, I was captivated by two teams of knee-high football players. Each of these mechanical enthusiasts, I was told, would learn from its mistakes and the behaviour of others on the field, and would eventually learn how to play a perfect game. The corner of the lab was given over to enthusiastic research students, shouting on their robotic protégés. I now think this was a clever move by our colleagues in Computing, Science and Engineering; humanoid robots appeal to subliminal memories of fantastic projections and cultural icons such as Daleks (or are they a life form?). I’ve since learned that our kind of robotics tends to more embedded, intelligent systems. Innovation is more prosaic, but essential; food processing systems, tackling extreme hazards, advanced manufacturing.
We have a long-established, excellent research group working in this area. It’s one of those fields that benefits particularly from building up networks that bring together university and industry partners as a sort of supra-embedded and hyper-intelligent system. Continuing these traditions of success, it’s just been announced that, with our partner institutions, we’ve won €4m funding from the European Union for a Marie Curie Initial Training network that will enable the training of fifteen new doctoral researchers across the countries participating in the group.
Marie Curie Initial Training Networks are highly prestigious awards, They are focused on the training of the next generation of European leading experts in Engineering and Science to increase the European competitiveness in research and development and to solve research challenges of global concern.
The focus of this new work will be on what are termed “dexterous, soft and compliant” systems, “reconfigurable and logistics” robotics and safety in human and robot interactions. Lest the concept of dexterous and compliant robots suggests something improper, it’s important to add that these applications will all be in the area of sustainable, advanced manufacturing – serous industrial priorities. The project as a whole comes together under the auspicious acronym SMART-E: Sustainable Manufacturing through Advanced Robotics Training in Europe.
Professor Samia Nefti-Meziani, who coordinated this successful funding bid, describes the focus of SMART-E as key technical challenges in high-value manufacturing, particularly in mechanism design, actuation, control, sensing, cognitive computation and cognitive interfaces for the aerospace and food sectors. In writing this, an irreverent thought slips in: flying and food are good emblems for contemporary life, and airline food could stand for some of the low points of daily life. Such trivia, of course, did not feature in the research consortia’s successful FP-7 bid.
Projects such as these show just how important networks are becoming for this sort of advanced, high-impact research. The SMART-E consortium spans the UK, Germany, Italy and Switzerland There are six universities in the partnership (Salford, Sheffield, Technical University of Munich, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italian Institute of Technology and the University of Zurich). And there are leading corporate participants: FESTO, AIRBUS and Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. The team is supported by a number of additional leading Universities, research laboratories and industries as associated partners.
This example well makes the point that, in our present and future research, networks are in themselves significant assets without which it will be increasingly difficult to derive value in complex areas of enquiry and application.
We are in the process of revising our approach to research, building on the successful completion of our new Strategic Plan. SMART-E – and the intelligence embedded in it as an approach to making and applying new knowledge, is a model example of best practice for the present, and the future.
(The Marie Curie Initial Training Network SMART -E (Sustainable Manufacturing through Advanced Robotics Training in Europe) is a new european research and training programme on Advanced Robotics under the European Union programme FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN with a total budget of approximately 4 M Euro (M 3.9 Euro).
Gavin Esler’s (BBC’s Newsnight) new book is “Lessons from the Top” – leaders’ stories and the ways in which they relate to the fortunes of organisations. Gavin Esler was recently the host for “The Big Picture”, one in a series of sixteen events around the country, fronted by Lloyds Bank, that are directed at taking businesses to the next level. Manchester’s Big Picture event was held just across the water from our MediaCity campus, in the provocative setting of the Imperial War Museum North. No one commented on the juxtaposition of banking straplines and business boosterism with war memorabilia and the wreckage of a car blown up in Iraq, but perhaps I’m just an over-attenuated cultural studies type.
Cultural studies – and similar fields of study – tend to get a beating from employers at this sort of event – lots of talk about the mismatch between qualifications and skills requirements and the need for “useful” qualifications. This morphs into complaints about “useless” degrees (often attributed to Mickey Mouse which is odd, because this is probably the highest earning bit of design and marketing ever). A few glasses of Burgundy later and, depressingly, we’re into slothful and lazy British youth etcetera etcetera.
The nice thing about The Big Picture Manchester is that this didn’t happen. There were sensible, fair and considered comments from the floor and the panel. Gavin – as well travelled moderator and Newsnight veteran – wanted to know what made Manchester special (which he said is the view from Newcastle – not so sure about this, though). It could be because – unlike Boris Johnson for London – our leaders don’t tend to slag off their own constituents.
There’s another point here, and one made with eloquence and passion by my colleague John Brooks, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University. Speaking at the Brighter Britain fringe event at September’s Conservative Party Conference, John turned over some tables. “I’m fed up”, he said, “with employers telling us our students are not employment-ready. I think increasingly there’s evidence that employers are not graduate-ready.”
John was talking about the edgy and imaginative deftness and familiarity that today’s graduates have with new technologies. His thought-line can be usefully extended to graduates more generally and, in particular, to push beyond the limiting obsession with “top” universities and elite fields and professions; engineering, financial services, law and – out of deference to Lloyds’ hospitality at the Imperial War Museum, banking…….).
The heavy lifting of the economy is done in the middle range, in unsexy sectors such as waste management, logistics, food processing, packaging, car manufacturing. And the vast majority of graduate destinations are into these sectors, without fuss or too much angst. I would guess than nine out of every ten graduates who want to be in formal work where their education is fully valued are on track within a couple of years (and I have to guess because, despite all the hype, we simply don’t know – our so-called graduate destination measures tell us almost nothing of real value).
So – and to claim Gavin Esler’s book title for another purpose – what would “Lessons from the Middle” look like. Here’s a sample of one that, coincidentally, arrived courtesy of Google Alerts in the middle of a hail storm when I was writing this piece. The unsexy sector is the used car trade, and the undervalued profession is Nursing.
Motors.co.uk lists 4260 car dealers across the UK and has 246,628 used cars on offer: “launched in January 2007, Motors.co.uk remains committed to its mission to make the buying and selling process as transparent and safe as possible for buyers, running history checks on nine out of every 10 cars advertised to enable buyers to quickly see if a car or van has ever been listed as stolen or written off following a serious crash”.
Rather than criticising students for being “slothful” or their degrees as tending towards useless, Motors.co.uk celebrates their efforts and achievements with their Most Deserving Student Award:
“It has been a great pleasure to discover so many more of the UK’s hard-working, higher education students, through nominations made by their friends, family and tutors. We found it as difficult as ever to narrow it down to the five finalists; each one deserves recognition for the achievements they have made, and should feel proud just to have been in the running for the award”.
And – of course! – we are delighted that the winner is Julia Hebb, a first-year Adult Nursing student at our University. Julia’s “Lesson from the Middle” is in a different register to anecdotes about Ronald Reagan or Richard Branson. But – for me and I hope others – it’s more compelling:
“The mother of two has been praised for returning to education at the age of 34, after having raised her family – and in particular for helping son, Tyler, a sufferer of both Autism and Asperger’s syndrome to overcome problems with his speech and communication. Julia learnt to encourage Tyler’s speech by singing his favourite song to him in their small, all white family bathroom. “I did all the dance movements as well, and Tyler would join in. He soon began to mimic me, and make sounds and it wasn’t long before these mumbles turned into words.” After speaking to Tyler’s occupational therapist about how well this technique had worked for herself and her son, the therapist asked permission for it to be used as a guide for other parents and as part of future training in occupational therapy. Having fought hard to keep Tyler in mainstream school, Julia was successful, and her son has also now gone on into higher education to study plumbing at college. With more time for herself, Julia went to Tameside college firstly to gain her GCSE’s, and then completed an Access to Nursing course before being accepted on to the BSc Adult Nursing degree course at Salford University where she is currently in her first year of study”.
Julia’s response to the award? “It’s my life goal to become a nurse; working as part of a multidisciplinary team, so that I can help others that may not be able to help themselves due to illness, sickness, disease or accidents”.
I hope she enjoys her Peugeot 107 when she drives it away from the Motors.co.uk prize-giving later this month – although this will be one more for our over-stretched Allerton car park.
More generally, Julia Hebb’s story, and her commitment, does all of Nursing proud, and counters the easy criticism ladled out by our more superficial politicians. And Motors.co.uk’s admirable recognition of the work that so many of our students put in to gain their qualifications has more value than getting quick laughs from the party conference podium.
There’s nothing wrong with Lessons from the Top. But Lessons from the Middle are much more interesting.
Times Higher Education: “Manchester Met v-c hits back on graduate employment”
Daily Mail: “Jamie Oliver was right: British kids are lazier than immigrants and refuse to do the ‘menial’ jobs we need, claims Boris Johnson”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2440021/Boris-Johnson-Jamie-Oliver-right-British-kids-lazier-immigrants.html#ixzz2k95KA3Ys
Motors.co.uk: Most Deserving Student Award: http://mostdeserving.motors.co.uk/student/news/
“The relationship between the zombie status of the scholarly book and the perilous state of the profession isn’t causal, but nor is it unrelated, and until we develop the individual and institutional will to transform our ways of communicating, we’re unlikely to be able to transform our broader ways of working”. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy“. New York, New York University Press, 2011.
The Fifth of November is an auspicious date for Parliament, although it is not clear that this was on the mind of the Westminster Forum when it organized its latest seminar on open access publishing. My own rhetorical flourish, in titling my talk “the exploding book”, had seemed a good idea when I put together the PowerPoints, but less wise when it came to standing up in front of the audience. More appropriate was the austere message on the stained glass above the speakers at of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, where we met: “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness”.
Certainly, open access publishing for academic journals, and particularly science and medicine, is no longer revolutionary. There are many claims to godliness – in adhering to the principles of openness – and a good deal of concern with cleanliness, particularly for transparency and clarity in who will pay, and who will soon profit. But, for open access journal publishing, the revolution is over; we’re now into the long and difficult transition to the full and effective implementation of new ways of working. Appropriately, Stevan Harnad, that veteran campaigner for an open world, has coined this the quest for “fair gold”.
Book publishing, though – and scholarly communication in the arts, humanities and social sciences – is far from settled. One of the most thoughtful commentators on this – and on the possibilities for opening up publication and communication in these fields through digital solutions – is Kathleen Fitzgerald. One of her proposals – that universities themselves re-invent scholarly publishing – was raised in discussion at last week’s Westminster Forum. Similar ideas were developed at July’s British Library seminar, where Kathleen was a keynote speaker (an overview of this meeting is now online at https://www.jisc-collections.ac.uk/Reports/oabooksreport/).
Of course, there are still university presses. But while they may be non-profits (in that they reinvest in publishing rather than making money for shareholders) they are invariably run on commercial lines. Set up as they are, they can do little for the humanities scholar who works in a specialized field that may only yield 500 conventional book sales and in an area that requires specialized production, such as high resolution colour plates. Here, royalties are a long-gone fantasy; its far more likely that the author will be asked for a subvention of £10,000. The basic publishing model is broken.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s infectious optimism is more radical – a comprehensive reinvention of scholarly communication, review and distribution:
“What if the press were re-imagined as part of a university publishing center that, parallel to and in collaboration with the library, served as another pivot point between the institution and the broader scholarly community—if, just as the library brings the world to the university, the press brought the university to the world? What if, rather than serving particular scholarly fields through the current list-based press model, the publishing center instead focused on the need to publish the work produced within the university, making it available for dissemination around the world? How would the press’s function in the scholarly communication process”.
And here, the motto of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers does seem apt:
Lucem Deus Tuam da Nobis: God, Give Us Your Light
Viva the Manchester students who are demanding a new curriculum in Economics. After all, before 2008 this was a field of enquiry that embraced perpetual economic growth. Many of the strands of scholarship that were denigrated before the crash are now seen as prescient. As with all disciplines change is, and should be, constant. In my own area of Archaeology, we’d still be teaching Craniology and Eugenics if there had not been disruption to the curriculum.
Last week, I was in Doha for the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). The University Presidents’ forum included Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Morocco, Columbia, Uruguay, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Australia and Lebanon. The extraordinary breadth and diversity of Higher Education today gives the lie to the concept of a fixed curriculum and intransigent disciplines. After all, knowledge and learning has always been cumulative, fluid and radical. This is what makes it addictive, and its practitioners obsessive.
There’s been a huge focus on MOOCs as disruptive technologies, with near-panic that the university-as-we-know-it may be swept away. Some have joined the MOOC movement; Cousera, or the new Futurelearn platform. MOOCs encourage and celebrate openness, flexibility and curricula that are assembled in a myriad ways, by tens of thousands of individual participants. There would be an evident contradiction in both embracing MOOCs while at the same time holding onto the notion of a static internal curriculum.
Perhaps, then, one of the lasting effects of the initial MOOC surge will be to establish the principle of more flexible, responsive and disruptive internal curricula. This is the potential of the “flipped classroom”, where learning is no longer about “filling up” students with concepts and information. The new pedagogy will draw its content from the Cloud. Learning will be about the high-level ability to frame and understand complex problems, and solve them. It will also be about recognising that the nature and challenges of these problems change all the time – as the Manchester Economics students have done. New technologies enable and enhance disruptive curriculation, in ways that we have yet to appreciate, often building on the early “connectivist” MOOCs.
An immediate challenge for us – and a cause for passionate advocacy by some of our students – is to put in place a new way of offering Modern Languages. Like many other universities, the traditional, rigid curricula for language teaching no longer
works. We are now looking at ways of combining modern languages with other threads of learning across the full range of our subject areas. Can languages be constructively disruptive, challenging received wisdom in the same manner that radical advocates argue for fields such as Economics? Given that, for example, non-Spanish speakers are cut off from the vast conceptual riches of contemporary South America, the answer must be yes. English language speakers were a distinct minority at WISE in Doha, and we were all the better for it.
Manchester’s Post-Crash Economics Society says this: “we want more critical theory and reflection to be included …. Those who do a totally different degree but still have a passion to understand these issues are encouraged to get involved”. An apt manifesto in a time of disruptive curriculation.