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The research project "Information Law and the Digital Transformation of the University" addresses key challenges the European university sector faces today. These challenges include the increasing dependence of universities and researchers on suppliers of digital technologies and services, a complex but fragmented legislative framework on research, and researchers’ need for external data to study the digital world around us. Preserving ‘digital sovereignty’ of universities and researchers is key to a successful digital transformation of the university sector.

Information Law and the Digital Transformation of the University

Universities and academics play a vital role in science and society. In order to safeguard universities as independent, and public interest driven knowledge institutions, it is essential to safeguard and promote academic freedoms in the digital age. That is why the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam has commissioned the Institute of Information Law (IViR) to investigate the digital transformation of the university.

This resulted in the research project “Information Law and the Digital Transformation of the University”. The research team, comprising eight IViR experts, has developed research reports exploring different aspects of digital sovereignty of universities, including concrete recommendations to universities and law- and policymakers. These reports provide answers to the following three questions:

  • 1. What does digital sovereignty mean for universities?

    Universities’ increasing reliance on commercial suppliers means the external influence on universities’ digital designs and academic practices grows. The concentration of digital infrastructures, and the data within, in the hands of powerful corporate entities bears the risk that academic values on which universities are founded will erode. It moreover leads to dependencies when it is costly and difficult to change suppliers or when digital services are not operating optimally together. Another concern is that personal and other data from universities’ digital environment are extracted for suppliers’ economic gains. Such risks have prompted universities’ calls for ‘digital sovereignty’.

    Recommendations to universities:

    • Develop a procurement framework that integrates the safeguarding of academic values. Tools can include lock-in risk assessments, data protection impact assessments and compliance audits
    • Produce shared knowledge about legal and technical assessments of frequently procured digital services and infrastructures and team up as a sector to increase negotiation power vis-à-vis large suppliers of digital services and infrastructures
    • Promote services and technologies developed with academic values and the public interest in mind and diversify the digital portfolio where possible

    Download the report on Digital Sovereignty (PDF, 101p.)

  • 2. How can EU law cater better to the needs of scientific research?

    The European Union (EU) exercises increasing influence on the conditions under which universities and researchers carry out public interest-oriented research. For instance, EU legislation on open science and data, directly and indirectly affects research activities, however, not always have they been conceived with scientific research in mind. This makes legal compliance for universities and academic researchers unnecessarily complex, and leaves needs unaddressed.

    Recommendations to law- and policymakers:    

    • Adopt a consistent notion and definition of scientific research across legislation which emphasises the public-interest nature of scientific research and its adherence to recognised ethical standards of scientific research and open science
    • Continually assess and address the internal coherence of EU data and digital legislation from the perspective of promoting scientific research
    • Give broad recognition to scientific freedom as a cross-cutting policy issue that transcends the EU’s Open Science Policy and elevates the objectives of scientific research throughout the EU’s policy cycle
  • 3. How can researchers’ access to external data be improved?

    The digitisation of society makes it crucial to be able to observe and understand how data and digital infrastructures intermediate the world around us. Yet, while the amount of data being generated in our society is growing exponentially, (academic) researchers are facing increasing obstacles to access that data and observe digital phenomena. The lack of clear transparency and data access rights for academic research, challenges universities’ core missions as public interest-driven knowledge producers and watchdogs. We identify a particular need among academic researchers for improved legal guidance, robust data (sharing) infrastructures, and institutional support more broadly.

    Recommendations to universities:

    • Invest in legal, methodological, and technical capacity to enable the best use of transparency and data access provisions as laid down in EU law and share knowledge, best practices and experiences across departments and institutions
    • Promote the explicit recognition of scientific research objectives in the adoption and implementation of transparency and data access provisions in EU and its Member States’ laws

    Recommendations to law- and policymakers:

    • Recognise scientific research in digital law- and policymaking by providing academic researchers with the ability to access external data for public interest-oriented scientific research
    • Provide more clarity about the scope and application of data access rights which are conducive to the aim of enabling public interest-oriented scientific research and avoiding its undue obstruction
    • Continue to invest in public technical infrastructures and tools to facilitate data access that can be deployed by (academic) researchers

    Download the report on Access to data for research (PDF, 131P.)

Findings and recommendations


If you have questions with the regard to the study “Information Law and the Digital Transformation of the University”, please contact Dr. Kristina Irion, Associate Professor at the Institute for Information Law.