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Research at Law “very good”

“Our publication culture is not one of h-indexes and impact factors”

MAASTRICHT. The unique profile claimed by the Maastricht Faculty of Law – international, multi- and interdisciplinary – that should distinguish this faculty from the other ones in the Netherlands, is no longer all that unique. All law faculties in the Netherlands now have the same ambition, emphasised an external committee that investigated research in the field of law. What Maastricht does excel in, is the large number and diversity of foreign students and staff members.

“We were always front runners with our European and Comparative Law research, but it is unavoidable that we are no longer the only ones,” was Hans Nelen's reaction, responsible for research at the Maastricht Faculty of Law. “But because we have invested in this for years now and because of the international composition of our staff, we still have a lead on the rest.”

In the final report from the external committee – which visited the faculty in November and interviewed various researchers – there is praise for the quality of the research, social relevance and the viability. These three main criteria were judged to be ‘very good’. According to the committee, the greatest strength of the law researchers is the way in which they set up their research: bottom-up, with the board playing mainly a stimulating and facilitating role.

There were some critical notes too. Because, however commendable the bottom-up culture may be, how can that be reconciled with the introduction of a new ‘top-down’ research programme? The assessors hope that this faculty programme, entitled Integration of and Interaction between legal orders, “fosters rather than represses, and that it steers rather than commands,” because it could squash innovative ideas that might not immediately fit.
Nelen: “We don't want to abandon our bottom-up culture, the flowers are allowed to bloom, but we think it is wise to introduce more consistency. We want to prevent our research centres from becoming islands. Besides, in doing so, we hope to be more successful when we apply for subsidies.”

The publication culture – in which journal, how many, and what types of publication – is a sensitive subject. Although the faculty has started to regard quality more important than quantity (and has formerly said farewell to the minimum of two to three publications each year), practice appears to be more obstinate. Agreements about publication criteria appear to vary from person to person, the committee concluded. In particular young researchers said that they still had to meet the requirement of a number of articles or book chapters per year. The committee recommends the development of criteria in order to reduce arbitrariness.
Nelen: “Our publication culture is not one of h-indexes and impact factors. Of course, we all know scientific journals that are important, but the titles are different for criminology than for European private law, tax law or criminal law. We are in a transition phase. Counting is no longer sacrosanct. The days of three articles per year are over, but what do we find important today? What do we want from our researchers? We are thinking about that. What remains is that we must make our mark in the field of science.”
Finally, the committee pointed out that only a quarter of the professors on the Bouillonstraat is female, which is considered too few. But looking at the staff as a whole, the balance is fine, 53 per cent being female.

The national research school Ius Commune was not included in this assessment. This also applies to the School of Human Rights. The latter will be discontinued as of 1 July, because Utrecht University, which operates the secretariat, feels that the administrative and financial burden is too great. It will continue as an informal network.

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