Public values and academic sovereignty

Safeguarding public values and academic sovereignty
Dutch universities have always been public institutions. Based on public values and academic sovereignty, universities ensure there is broad access to higher education and scientific research. Digital services contribute to the innovation and improvement of both education and research. At the same time, however, there is an increasing dependence on a limited number of dominant market players. In addition, essential values such as privacy, security, reliability, transparency, autonomy and democratic control are under growing pressure. These concerns were previously expressed in an opinion piece in de Volkskrant.
General working method
Early on in 2020, two taskforces at the VSNU started working on the issue described above. One taskforce focused on public value in education, the other on Responsible Management of Research Information and Data (RMRID). The taskforces worked on recommendations as to how to address the issue. The recommendations included:

  1. converting public values and academic sovereignty into principles, frameworks, and standards;
  2. jointly endorsing these principles and frameworks and having all knowledge organisations adopt them;
  3. applying these principles and frameworks to the commercial systems and in-house systems to be purchased;
  4. setting up a nationwide governance structure overseeing and reporting on this, ensuring the continued development of principles and frameworks, reinforcing the position of public institutions, and working on innovation with commercial parties;
  5. having the knowledge organisations invest jointly in the systems  most essential to the functioning of higher education and scientific research.

Additionally, avenues are being explored to create relevant legislation and regulations in order to safeguard public values and strengthen the position of universities.


Opinions and reports
In its final report, the Public Values in Education Taskforce particularly addresses the elaboration of these five (I-V) steps. As a follow-up, a taskforce on digitalisation strategy will be set up after the summer of 2021 to work on elaborating common principles. The taskforce will also look at open-source products and examine the current frameworks for standards.

The RMRID Taskforce specifically deals with metadata and derived/enriched data that includes information on and analysis of research results. To this end, Guiding Principles have been formulated (version 2.1). A previous version of these principles was applied in the contract with Elsevier and was subject to an open consultation in autumn 2020. The final opinion of the RMRID Taskforce requests that these principles be adopted (II) and applied to in-house as well as commercial systems (III). In addition, the Taskforce recommends setting up a corresponding governance structure (IV) and developing a so-called Open Knowledge Base for the most essential information pertaining to research (V). This last point is based on a feasibility study carried out by Dialogic.


The VSNU has embraced the results of both taskforces and will, in the coming period, elaborate the recommendations in close cooperation with SURF and other knowledge organisations. A further intention is to initiate similar processes for research and for business systems.