Northumbria Research Support

UK Government Embraces Gold Open Access

More news on open access scholarly publishing this month, following last month’s publication of the Finch report. The UK government has now made a formal response which largely accepts the Finch proposals, and in particular embraces the move to “gold” open access, which means that the author pays the costs of publication upfront, rather than libraries subscribing in bulk to journals.

BIS Response to Finch

The essence of today’s announcement is that all UK publicly funded research should be made openly accessible to anyone to read for free by 2014. In particular, it means that research should be published in OA journals which charge a fee to the author – in reality the author’s institution – for making the article freely available. This fee is known as an Article Processing Charge or APC. The costs of this move to gold OA will be borne by the existing science budget, which will not be increased to cover transitional costs to the new publishing arrangement.

Interviewed in the Guardian yesterday, universities and science minister David Willetts echoes the Finch report in claiming costs will amount to 1% of the current science budget:

“There is a genuine value in academic publishing which has to be reflected and we think that is the case for gold open access, which includes APCs,” Willetts told the Guardian. “There is a transitional cost to go through, but it’s overall of benefit to our research community and there’s general acceptance it’s the right thing to do.

“We accept that some of this cost will fall on the ring-fenced science budget, which is £4.6bn. In Finch’s highest estimation that will be 1% of the science budget going to pay for gold open access, at least before we get to a new steady state, when we hope competition will bring down author charges and universities will make savings as they don’t have to pay so much in journal subscriptions,” he added.

“The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded. I think there’s a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget,” Willetts said.

However, there is a concern that in the transitional period there will be additional costs for universities: libraries will still need to subscribe to many traditional journals as not all countries and publishers have embraced this move to open access. These costs will need to be met on top of the APCs to be levied on publicly funded research published in OA journals.

Meanwhile so-called “green” open access, where authors self-deposit a version of their published work in institutional or subject-specific repositories, barely receives a mention in the formal BIS response. The Guardian reports that this is an alternative “favoured by many academics” and ends with longstanding OA advocate Prof. Stevan Harnad, of Southampton University, who sees the government response as a missed opportunity to move to a cost-free green OA model and cut out the publishers altogether.

RCUK block grants for OA

Alongside the BIS announcement, Research Councils UK also released a response to the Finch report yesterday in the form of a new Open Access policy:

The new policy, which will apply to all qualifying publications being submitted for publication from 1 April 2013, states that peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils:

  • must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access, and;
  • must include details of the funding that supported the research, and a statement on how the underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed.

Criteria which journals must fulfill to be compliant with the Research Councils’ Open Access policy are detailed within the policy, but include offering a “pay to publish” option or allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository after a mandated maximum embargo period.

RCUK says it will provide a “block grant” to institutions to cover the costs of APCs arising from its funded work. Details on what this might be and how it will work are still to be discussed with organisations, but one possibility is that it will be linked to overall amount of grant funding received from research councils.

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