2.2 Research, development, and innovation activities and artistic activities with impact

Assessment of the audit team

The University of Ljubljana makes a strong contribution to society with its research and artistic activities

The University of Ljubljana (UL) and its research play a major role in society, in terms of reforming it and promoting research. The impact of university research is based on three pillars: the quality and impact of research, the reporting of the impact, and connection with society. The key goal of the societal impact of research at the UL is to make society better with research, increase the relevance of research knowledge and the role of science in society. The university is advancing its position as a leading research institution and is actively engaged in the fabric of societal development through its strategic initiatives in open science, ethical practices, innovation, and community engagement.

Artistic research, notably the newly accredited PhD programmes in arts, highlight the university’s engagement with societal impact through the arts. The formation of the Artistic Council, a collaborative effort among academies and faculties, is strategically positioned to underscore the societal importance of artistic research. In addition, artistic contributions, exhibitions, research related fairs and public events underline the UL’s commitment and contribution to artistic activities.

As the largest research university in Slovenia, the UL has dedicated support structures that provide a robust foundation for research and innovation. The research impact is led by the vice rectors and various committees. The vice rector for research and development meets the vice-deans of research monthly. The vice rector for knowledge transfer also has a working group for knowledge exchange. According to the audit visit, the UL’s knowledge transfer office plays a great role in terms of research impact and other research-related topics. The infrastructure serves as a vital resource for both established researchers and emerging scholars.

The university’s infrastructure, policies, and programmes collectively support its vision and strategy for 2022-2027, reinforcing its commitment to excellence and societal impact. However, the large set of activities and established support structures are fragmented and rely often on existing initiatives and those developed over time. The critical review and impact evaluation, institutionalised through monitoring of some key performance indicators, do not lead to continuous development or effects in the case of limited performance or not achieved targets. The audit team recommends that the university defines clearer goals for the research impact, as well as indicators to measure the research impact and ways to improve it.

The university should integrate quantitative and qualitative indicators to monitor research

According to the self-assessment report, the university participates in 186 long-term research programmes, 331 national research projects and 661 European and other international research and development projects. There are also many multidisciplinary projects funded by the Slovenian Research and Innovation Agency (ARIS). However, not every faculty has research programmes. The university’s introduction of new calls for research programmes for the next six years that incorporate societal impact measures into the evaluation criteria demonstrates the UL’s forward-thinking approach. This strategic inclusion ensures that the research outcomes contribute to academic knowledge and will deliver tangible benefits to society. The audit team recommends that the UL refines ongoing research programme evaluations by incorporating a balanced approach of qualitative and quantitative metrics and establishes transparent methods that address both underperformance and overperformance, such as an internal “Label of Excellence”. The university should integrate quantitative and qualitative indicators to monitor research, emphasising the societal impact at both university and faculty levels.

The university’s strengths are its commitment to innovation and societal impact

The University of Ljubljana is a member of the EUTOPIA University Alliance. EUTOPIA-TRAIN is a research initiative committed to the creation of a challenge-driven knowledge-creation community that capitalises on the joint potential of the EUTOPIA partners’ to promote innovation and societal impact. The EUTOPIA TRAIN initiative has led to the formation of the Citizen Science EUTOPIA Community of Practice, further integrating the UL into the international research community. The UL also has a centralised university-wide system for informing academia and the public on dedicated research topics and achievements via a dedicated website.

The UL showcases several core strengths that are critical to its success as a leading institution of higher learning and research in Slovenia. These strengths highlight the UL’s commitment to innovation and societal impact as well as the university’s strategic position within the European research landscape and its effective engagement with local and global communities. Some interviewees hoped that the university would find a way to achieve science excellence and develop the best research products globally.

The UL has created an innovation fund, which is a significant step toward bridging the gap between research and innovation. Complementing this, the UL offers support for patenting and business development through specialised support structures and services. The UL provides a 40% share to inventors, a rate that is notably higher than the national legislation requirement, demonstrating the UL’s dedication to incentivising innovation. The existence of the innovation fund and an office for the transfer of knowledge highlights the university’s dedication to encouraging and supporting innovative endeavours. These resources provide financial and logistical support for experimental activities. The commitment to innovation is apparent in the encouragement provided by university management and is reflected by grass-root initiatives for the exploration of novel approaches and practice improvement.

According to the audit visit, the UL has established a tradition of celebrating and incentivising innovation through various awards. These accolades recognise the achievements of students and researchers across all disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities, thereby making innovation activities more visible and appreciated within the university community. The UL could establish even stronger links between research and societal engagement in particular innovation activities. The UL should have clearly defined approaches between research and innovation management to identify innovation capacity and potential at an early stage.

The University of Ljubljana enhances an open science infrastructure and initiatives

The strategy of the UL articulates a clear vision for the university to engage in open science practices, with a comprehensive plan to perform and disseminate research in a manner that is consistent with the principles of open science by the end of 2027. This commitment extends to the responsible and collaborative management of research data and results.

The UL has established a broad array of tools and practices to foster open science and citizen science, and they are supported by university library. The infrastructure includes the UL Repository, Social Science Data Archives, and Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure. Additionally, the UL’s partnership in the OPERAS research infrastructure underscores its dedication to supporting open access scientific communication, particularly within the social sciences and humanities across the European Research Area. UL has signed the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA) declaration. The commitment to open science is further enhanced by the UL’s policy of covering article processing charges (APC), enabling academics to publish in open-access journals without incurring additional costs. This approach promotes the dissemination of knowledge and aligns with the principles of open science. Strategic agreements with municipalities and regional businesses highlight the UL’s role as a keystone institution in fostering innovation and the adoption of open science practices within the region. The audit team recommends that the UL encourages researchers to adopt the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable (FAIR) data principles and open science practices, supported by data management across all faculties.

The university is keen to improve training and support for researchers

The UL provides its staff with access to training activities linked to research and open science. According to the audit visit, the university library and the National Library offer open science courses for doctoral students and staff. Doctoral students also actively participate in the courses. While the offers related to staff development in open science practices are in place, the participation in training activities especially regarding more senior academic staff is not very high. The audit team also recommends improving the participation rate of senior academic staff in training, such as training in open science and other key skills related to the implementation of the UL strategy. Information concerning these opportunities is disseminated regularly, ensuring that both students and academic staff members are informed and can participate actively.

As a topic, societal engagement should be systematically included in doctoral programmes and the training should be integrated into the monitoring of doctoral students’ progress. Doctoral programmes could include training in science communication or assistance in continuous education programmes. Courses on scientific publishing and communications are now available on the university portal.

The university ensures the responsible conduct of research

The establishment of the UL senate committees on innovation and ethics reflects the strategic emphasis placed on these areas, indicating a robust governance framework that supports these objectives. According to the self-assessment report, the UL Researchers’ Code of Ethics provides the basis for ethical behaviour for teaching staff, researchers, and students. The UL has a framework programme of information sessions on values and ethical principles for researchers, which is implemented in the faculties and academies.

According to the self-assessment, researchers also know the European Code of Conduct on Research Integrity. The UL’s Human Resources (HR) strategy for researchers, accompanied by a code of conduct for researchers, demonstrates a commitment to upholding ethical standards and fostering a supportive environment for scholarly inquiry. Staff, students, and others may report potential research ethics violations to the UL Ethics Committee, which will process the reports and oversee procedures for dealing with research ethics violations. There is also a student information system, which checks final thesis for plagiarism.