Both myself and Ruth Hattam recently attended events organised by HEFCE focussing on the recent consultation paper around Open Access (OA) in the post-2014 REF. The principle behind the proposals is that outputs submitted for the next REF submission (likely to be around 2020) should be open access.
For a publication to be classed as OA according to the criteria proposed by HEFCE, it must:
- be accessible through an institutional repository immediately upon either acceptance or publication (to be decided as part of the consultation);
- be the final peer-reviewed text (though not necessarily identical to the publisher’s edited and formatted version); and
- be presented in a form allowing the reader to search for and re-use content subject to proper attribution.
HEFCE acknowledges the challenges around these proposals, and the system is designed to move towards the principle of full OA. As such, the proposal is that only journal articles and conference proceedings will be expected to comply with OA for the next REF, and that the OA criteria will only apply two years after the date of the policy announcement (i.e. from 2016).
The proposals as they stand mean that outputs which are retrospectively made to comply with the above definition of OA would not be eligible for submission to the REF. There were various issues raised at the consultation events about how this principle might work in cases where staff move institutions, bringing outputs with them. Delegates noted that this would effectively demand an extra administrative step on recruitment to check that outputs published while at the previous institution complied with REF OA guidelines.
Targets and exceptions
HEFCE propose that exceptions to the policy will be permitted, and one of the consultation questions is whether this should be on a case-by-case basis, a set percentage (70% is the suggestion) across an institutional submission, or whether targets are varied on a panel basis to take account of subject differences.
The audience from a variety of HEIs was broadly in favour of the open access proposal, in fact, some felt the proposal did not go far enough in progressing an open access approach. One view was that tolerating up to 30% non-compliance could be seen as a way for institutions/academics to circumvent the OA principle.
The case-by-case approach was seen as potentially bureaucratic, however, and there was some difficulty in establishing the sort of circumstances that would qualify as an ‘exception’. At this stage, HEFCE felt unable to expect 100% compliance without raising serious questions about academic freedom.
Publish or perish?
Publishers (and their ever-changing policies on OA) came in for some criticism, but the HEFCE panel was keen to stress that they see the publishing industry as part of the solution rather than the problem. One suggestion was that HEFCE and other funders invest in the SHERPA RoMEO/FACT service to ensure a robust and accurate information service which has capacity to keep track of the shifting publisher OA policies. It was further noted in this context that the issues around monographs were currently too complex to try and tackle in a meaningful way for the post-2014 REF.
Concerns were raised about the additional costs of supporting OA. The HEFCE panel view was that costs did not have to be a major issue if institutions developed policies that allowed for both green and gold OA. The suggestion was that the HEFCE REF guidelines should be viewed as a minimum standard.
The use of institutional repositories would clearly be key in the proposed changes, but the additional resources required to ensure that repositories were used most effectively was seen as an issue. For instance, the implications of embargoes on outputs was seen as something that would be difficult to monitor, particularly as there was no standard approach among publishers and the parameters were constantly changing. If publishers extended their embargoes beyond the RCUK recommendations (which were likely to be adopted by HEFCE) then it would be up to an institution whether to choose to pay gold OA fees in order to have outputs available to the REF submission.
Other discussion covered the potential for OA to form part of the REF5 narrative, and it was noted that further consideration needed to be given to the penalties if institutions missed OA targets. HEFCE commented that it was unlikely that OA constraints would be placed on research that supported impact. There was a strong argument for consistency as far as possible between and across panels.
Anyone who wishes to read the full consultation document from HEFCE can access it at the following link:
If any member of Northumbria staff wishes to comment on any of the seven questions (in Appendix A of the document) please send views to me (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) by 18th October 2013.