Open access – are we almost there for REF?

A report published today by Research England (on behalf of the research councils, Jisc and Wellcome) shows that UK universities are working hard to ensure that they are compliant with funders’ open access policies. The support from authors, professional services staff and academic libraries has been crucial in implementing open access and ensuring that research outputs from UK universities are shared as widely and as freely as possible.

The report is available here from Research England.

Access for all – but at a cost

According to a report published by Universities UK in last year, thirty-seven per cent of UK outputs are freely available to the world immediately on publication through either “gold” or “green” open access. This figure rises to fifty-three per cent after 24 months. Against a global average of twenty-five per cent we are doing well – but it has come at a cost.

With rising subscription charges and increasing article processing charges (APCs) we need to question whether or not the UK has delivered a cost-effective way of achieving open access.

There are other roads for us to travel down, as we are seeing from our bolder colleagues in Germany, France and Sweden. Germany’s nationwide negotiation coalition, Projekt DEAL, refused to renew Elsevier’s contract in 2017 and is thought to be saving more than €10 million (£8.7 million) a year in journal subscription fees. Likewise, France’s Le Consortium Couperin has suggested that research institutions are saving millions of euros in subscription costs after refusing to agree a new deal with Springer.

Sweden are the latest to take this route with the Bibsam Consortium choosing not to renew their agreement with Elsevier for the first time in twenty years.

Fair publishing

In order to us to move forward with open access there must be a fair and sustainable price model that truly reflects the costs involved in publishing and not, as was signalled in Springer-Nature’s IPO document, what the market will stand based on the brand value of the journal. We should encourage sustainable and transparent costing on the direct and indirect costs of publishing open access. This is already being done by some publishers – for example, Ubiquity Press offers a transparent breakdown of how their publication fees are calculated, in order to establish trust with authors, institutions and funders. This model allows the journal to be completely sustainable based on APCs alone.

Coordinated engagement and negotiations with scientific publishers to improve contractual conditions and secure greater transparency on costs is a national priority for open access to research publications. The UK universities’ negotiating body, Jisc Collections, should be able to open negotiations with publishers with support from funders and the university constituency. HEIs have an interest in the outcomes of these negotiations as both customers and suppliers of research outputs. Funders and universities are partners in this endeavour, recognising the imperative to work together and co-ordinate policy.

An internal UKRI review

UKRI is about to embark on an internal open access review. Ensuring that the findings of publicly-funded research are freely accessible and discoverable online is central to UKRI’s ambitions to accelerate research and innovation in the UK. This is an opportunity to take a good look at what is working well at the moment – and what isn’t.

The appointment of Robert-Jans Smits as the EU’s special envoy on open access will also see the OA agenda pushed forward. He has been tasked to make all publicly funded research freely available by 2020 – by no means an easy feat, but one that relies on working with stakeholders to build an open access future.

Collectively we need to ensure that open access is delivering what it sets out to achieve, and that universities and researchers are receiving value for money to access new scientific outputs. UK Research and Innovation will work with other funders and purchasing groups to achieve that.

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