The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is an ambitious initiative of the European Commission (EC) to create a platform to support Open Science and Open Research Data across Europe. Conceived over five years ago, the European Cloud Initiative announced in 2016 that EOSC would offer “1.7 million European researchers and 70 million professionals in science and technology a virtual environment with free at the point of use, open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines”.
Where we are now
While it was initially anticipated that by 2020 all European researchers would be able to deposit, access and analyse European scientific data through EOSC , it is still under development. The EOSC Association, a legal entity based in Belgium, was only established late last year, but this is set to form a strategic partnership agreement with the EC for future funding of the EOSC in Horizon Europe.
Since 2016, however, substantial work has been done via numerous EC funded projects, working groups and expert groups  to address the many complex issues which underpin what at first glance might appear a fairly simple aim.
So, what exactly is EOSC?
There are fundamental questions as to what EOSC is in practice, such as:
- Is it a set of standards and practices for sharing and re-using data?
- Is it a set of standards and protocols for enabling interoperability of research services, data and analytics?
- Is it a marketplace or portal for discovery of research data and research services?
- Is it a technical architecture for research services and digital infrastructure?
- Is it a provider of key “glue” services to enable federation of research services (such as persistent identifiers, accounting, security and trust and identity)?
Jisc has participated in many of the projects (EOSC Pilot, EOSC-Hub, EOSC Synergy) and working groups (National Landscapes, Sustainability, Rules of Participation, Architecture, Skills and Training) trying to answer these issues, particularly in the areas of governance, strategy and skills.
Not surprisingly, however, given such large and diverse communities, consensus has been slow to develop with many of these questions still not convergent on a common answer. More importantly, questions still remain as to the role of the existing digital infrastructure providers and commercial providers within EOSC.
“Free at the point of use”
For digital service providers and digital infrastructure providers, a key question remains over the ambition for EOSC to be “free at the point of use”. These services are not free to provide and the question remains as to who will pay for them.
National providers, such as Jisc, are funded via their members and/or governments and are not able to provide these services for free to other researchers within Europe. At present, we are looking towards the EOSC Association to address such questions.
Looking ahead for research collaboration in Europe
Of course, the UK’s role and participation in EOSC has also been overshadowed by Brexit, and even now, not all the ramifications of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement are fully understood in terms of our participation, although Jisc is engaging with UKRI and the UK government on this.
Despite these issues, Jisc is keen for the UK to fully engage with EOSC, as research is built upon collaboration and sharing, and EOSC will be a key foundation for these two things when working with researchers in continental Europe. Jisc will be participating in a new project funded by the EC called EOSC Future, which will begin later this year. As well as building upon previous work in Governance, Strategy and Skills, our work in this project will also be focused on how we help UK researchers and UK research service providers engage with EOSC.