Memorandum from the Higher Education Funding
Council for England (HEFCE)
1. The primary role of HEFCE is to distribute
funds provided by the Secretary of State (DfES) to institutions
of higher education (HEIs) in England to support their activities
in teaching and research. The Council has allocated some £6
billion for 2004-05, mostly in the form of a block grant calculated
using a standardised formulaic approach. The Council allocates
a limited amount of special funding for more precisely stated
purposes in cases where this is judged to be in the interest of
the HE sector nationallyfor example, to support the development
of a dedicated national IT infrastructure for HE .
2. HEIs for their part are autonomous bodies
drawing their funding from a range of public and private sources
including HEFCE. They are accountable to HEFCE for their good
management of public funds but are not generally subject to detailed
requirements as to how these are spent.
3. Within this context the Council has a
general interest in the quality and adequacy of information resources
to support teaching and research as a contributory factor supporting
the overall quality of provision. Over the last decade it has
allocated special funding to support specific initiatives to improve
library provisionuntil recently through the Research Support
Libraries Programme (RSLP), with a strong focus on increasing
collaboration between HE libraries, and currently through our
support for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
and through a small programme of grants to support HEIs housing
major research libraries heavily used by visiting researchers.
4. HEFCE is aware of concern within the
sector about the rate of increase in the cost of scientific periodicals.
We have in recent years supported initiatives to help HEIs to
acquire academic journals online at the best possible price through
bulk purchase dealsJISC is currently leading on this. However,
overall spending within the sector on periodicals is a very small
proportion of total expenditure and we do not see this at present
as a case where further direct intervention would be justified.
5. Looking forward, the Council remains
committed to two principles:
That UK learners and researchers
and should have access to a full range of world class information
resources at reasonable cost; and
That the output of publicly funded
research undertaken within the UK should be made available promptly
to the widest possible user group including other researchers,
business users and the general public.
6. We note the rapid increase in recent
years in the proportion of academic journals that are available
in electronic form, as well as the emergence of important new
IT based approaches to the dissemination of research outputs.
We firmly expect that over the next decade the internet will become
the primary channel for academic discourse including both the
formal publication of considered outputs and the sharing of ideas
and information in new and less formal ways. We also anticipate
that the peer reviewed academic journal (even if no longer published
in print form) will retain its central role in disseminating research
findings and in the certification and preservation of peer-endorsed
knowledge. Being seen to publish in the right places is central
to peer esteem and career development with the research community
and this will not change quickly.
7. We are aware of concern about the possible
impact of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) on publishing
behaviour. The purpose of the RAE is to assess the quality of
research carried out in UK HEIs. Individual researchers deciding
where to publish their work will take into account a number of
factors including the possible benefit to their own reputation
and to the advancement of their career of being seen to publish
in leading media of high quality as well as their desire to see
their findings widely disseminated. The nature of these media
varies between disciplines, but in many disciplines there is a
well-established consensus as to where the best work is most often
published, and in a robust peer review process it is reasonable
for the assessment panels to take this into account. At the same
time the panels are encouraged to keep an open mind as to the
possibility that work of the highest quality may in some cases
be published in new or unusual media.
8. We have no firm view on the role of commercial
publishers within the new information landscape, but we note that
they control many of the leading international journal titlesthe
majority of which are controlled from outside the UKand
they remain well placed to continue to provide services in disseminating
and preserving research outcomes that the global research community
needs. They will of course need to demonstrate that the services
that they provide fully meet the particular needs of researchers
and are good value for money. At the same time a significant number
of high prestige journals are currently published by UK based
learned societies and subject associations which fund valuable
services to the community from the income that these generate.
The likelihood of structural change in the publishing business
is thus uncertain and this would not be straightforward in practice.
9. In keeping with our commitment to the
free dissemination of the findings of publicly funded research,
the Council would be glad to see more research outputsincluding
formal publications, work in progress and research datamade
promptly and freely available online for the benefit of the research
community and others. "Open access" publication of journal
articles and other material is an important element in this. We
note the encouraging progress that has been made in posting preprints
and peer-reviewed published material on personal and HEI websites.
We shall be considering whether further action may be required
by the Council to support this within the general context set
out above. In the mean time we shall continue to support developments
in this field through JISC, and possibly also through action following
the report of the Research Support Libraries Group which we are
currently discussing with a number of UK partner bodies.