Great riches await those who sign up to a new network that links university databases, says Keith Nuthall
Teachers and academics will soon have access to a far richer seam of information thanks to the establishment of a European Union Knowledge Exchange network (KE). Britain's Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc), the Dutch SURF Foundation, Denmark's Electronic Research Library (DEFF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) have grouped together to forge common networks to link universities and research institutions across Europe. The alliance's headquarters opened this summer in Copenhagen.
A key aim is "to develop closer working relationships between the key national agencies within Europe responsible for the development of infrastructure and services to support ICT within tertiary education and research". Members are discussing goals for the next five years, while the network's decision-making processes are being set up. Projects under consideration include:
- Developing and managing digital data repositories, particularly within universities and colleges
- Implementing standards to support interoperability between learning and research resources, including databases
- Easing cross-border access to information resources
- Issuing best-practice models for digitisation and quality assurance of databases, while informing EU policies on content licensing and intellectual property rights.
The group could also try to influence public policy by assisting the development of academic digital information infrastructure, promoting standards in digital-rights management, security and the so-called AAA issues - authentication, authorisation and accounting. It may also develop strategies to embed e-learning and e-research within mainstream education and research, highlighting the environmental sustainability benefits of remote electronic learning and research systems.
Jisc hopes that the link will pay dividends. Partnership manager Louisa Dale said: "We're enthusiastic about the opportunities for collaboration that the knowledge exchange network might bring. KE is all about maximising potential. It will enable us to improve the quality of the ICT development and services we already provide."
One goal would be to create cross-border digital repositories of knowledge accessible to academics and students. These would include research outputs and journal articles. "While we are on the road to developing a national repositories infrastructure, it makes sense to think about how we might share on an international basis," Dale says.
Difficulties related to intellectual property and copyright issues will need to be solved, organisations' technical standards will need to be interoperable, and communications infrastructure must be provided.
Fortunately, international standards are de rigueur in database and internet development, so co-operation has a solid basis. Philip Pothen, a spokesman for Jisc, says: "The importance of international collaboration in this environment is that you cannot act alone. Standards and compliance are important; you need to invest in this kind of work."
He and other Jisc officials are keen for KE to expand to other European countries.