The UK is now nearing the end of a second three-year period as an Observer of CLARIN. The status of observer is intended for countries that are preparing an application for full membership, and I am hoping that the UK will make such a proposal. What does that involve?
CLARIN is a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) with a statutory seat in the Netherlands and a coordinating office at the University of Utrecht. The statutes for CLARIN ERIC can be found here. CLARIN originated in a set of preparatory meetings in around 2008, underwent a 'preparatory phase' funded by the European Commission, and officially became an ERIC on 29th February 2012. The members of CLARIN are sovereign countries. Countries that are in the process of preparing a proposal for full membership can join as 'Observers'. The current three-year period of the UK's Observer status expires at the end of June 2021. Currently, there are 21 full members and 3 observers ( see https://www.clarin.eu/content/participating-consortia). Members can be any country (or international organization), but the majority of countries and the statutory seat must be in the EU. From the point of view of the UK, our potential full membership is therefore not directly affected by Brexit, and, in fact, could be seen as an opportunity to maintain links and collaborations with European colleagues through these turbulent times.
At its simplest, joining CLARIN involves making an application as a country, being accepted by the CLARIN ERIC General Assembly, making a CLARIN Agreement, and paying an annual fee. The annual fee for each country is based on the GPD, and for 2021 for the UK it would be €225,631. Observer fees in 2021 will be €14,102. An application for membership from the UK would require the backing of the funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the approval of the relevant government ministry, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (aka BEIS). The application to become an Observer was made by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), now part of UKRI.
3. Participation in CLARIN activities
Full membership of CLARIN ERIC means that participants in the national consortium have the opportunity to participate in all CLARIN activities as equal partners. This includes participation in funded projects in which CLARIN ERIC is a partner, access to CLARIN ERIC funding schemes for projects, events, resource creation, etc. A significant amount of funding is available for travel and subsistence to take part in CLARIN workshops and other events, in normal circumstances. Technical support is available for converting datasets, software applications, and online services to be shared in the distributed infrastructure, and for implementing secure federated access to resources. There are opportunities to take part in the two-way processes of knowledge exchange and community support, and to shape the future policies and strategy of CLARIN.
More information on the opportunities offered by CLARIN for members is available in the recently updated version of the Value Proposition (PDF).
4. National infrastructure
The CLARIN Agreement should include a commitment to sustain national infrastructure as part of the pan-European effort. CLARIN is a virtual, distributed infrastructure, reliant on digital data and software applications, online services, and networks of centres. Each country should (if necessary) create and sustain its own centres. Each member country is required to support and maintain at least one centre certified by CLARIN as a 'B-Centre', meaning that it commits to offering services to other CLARIN members and conforms to certain standards (more here). Some countries have only one B-Centre, others have more - Germany has eight. Currently, the UK does not have any, but the Oxford Text Archive is a 'C-Centre', meaning that if fulfils some of the centre requirements, and makes metadata available to the Virtual Language Observatory. More UK centres would be encouraged and supported to acquire B-Centre status if we became full members.
CLARIN does not just involve joining the club - it also involves a commitment to national research infrastructure, the benefits of which are then shared and multiplied by participating in CLARIN. The mechanisms by which national research infrastructure in this domain might be organized and funded are still not yet clear, although the results of the latest Government spending review seem to imply that this is a priority area and that funding would be available for infrastructures that can make a successful case.
5. Roles and Governance
The UK would be expected to provide representatives to the following CLARIN bodies, which conduct their business through a mixture of email, online virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings with travel and subsistence funded by CLARIN:
- National Coordinator (also ex officio a member of the Programme Committee of the annual conference)
- General Assembly member (normally the representative of the funding body)
- Legal and Ethical Issues Committee
- User Involvement Committee
And members can be nominated for the following committees:
- Centre Assessment Committee
- Knowledge Sharing Infrastructure Committee
- Science Advisory Board
- Standards Committee
- Standing Committee for CLARIN Technical Committees
- Strategy and Management Board
Members are invited to submit proposals for presentations of CLARIN-related work to the annual conference. Authors of accepted papers and a number of national delegates receive funding to attend the conference. Selected papers are published by Linköping University Electronic Press. More CLARIN activities and opportunities arise on a regular basis.
6. Alternatives to Full Membership
The statutes of CLARIN ERIC state that "observers shall be admitted for a three-year period maximum. In exceptional cases the General Assembly may accept further extension of observer status". Having already had two terms as an Observer, we cannot expect to be admitted for another, so failure to submit an application for full membership in the next six months is likely to result in the end of the UK's participation, at least until an application for full membership is made in the future. It is possible for universities or other organizations to apply for 'third party agreement' status, in order to participate in CLARIN activities. Carnegie Mellon University in the USA has made such an agreement. In these circumstances an annual fee (currently c. €14,000 per annum) is payable.