The first national equipment and facilities sharing database in the UK for higher education has been launched – equipment.data.ac.uk.
Led by the University of Southampton and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on behalf of RCUK SSC Ltd, the new national aggregation portal allows institutions to both contribute to and access facilities and equipment data from a selection of UK universities.
The roots of the project go back to 2011 when the research councils set out new guidelines for equipment funding. Since then, the University of Southampton has worked with partners in the N8, M5 and GW4 consortia, led by the University of Leeds, Loughborough University and University of Bath to establish whether there could be a common approach to sharing equipment and facilities between UK universities and the wider world.
This service forms part of the Data.ac.uk initiative – formed by the community of UK university open data projects. It provides a hub for linked open data in UK academia. Sub-domains such as learning-provider.data.ac.uk and cpv.data.ac.uk enable linked open data between UK universities, using what Sir Tim Berners Lee calls ‘Cool URIs’ [http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI.html]. Sites such as equipment.data.ac.uk, will aggregate open data from UK universities to provide useful services and downloads of the combined data. Data.ac.uk sub-sites are available to be administered by organisations with appropriate data. The Data.ac.uk team has been working with Gateway to Research which will give the public better access to information on research funded by the Research Councils.
The equipment portal – the technology for which has been a collaboration between a number of UK universities – provides a UK ‘shop window’ for higher education facilities and equipment supporting the need for greater accessibility and efficiency in the sector, and has the backing of RCUK as its preferred medium for national equipment data sharing.
The work undertaken is backed by Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton and Chairman and Co-Director of the recently opened Open Data Institute (ODI). From the outset, Nigel has been keen to see a solution that would allow better access to equipment drawing on publicly available datasets and thereby drive more collaborations.
Adrian Cox, project manager at the University of Southampton comments: “Regional consortia have been working together for some time to establish regional facilities and equipment portals. What was needed was a national solution that aggregated them together. Using the open data equipment portal, we are delivering a scalable solution, without the need for complex software systems. The next 12 to 18 months are going to be crucial in engaging more institutions to contribute and embed a culture of sharing.”