Memorandum from the Open University
The Open University is Britain's largest University
committed to making University study available to an increasingly
large and diverse student body. It currently has more than 200,000
people studying its courses. The University regards research as
essential for both its own sake and as a guarantee of high quality
teaching and is committed to developing a vibrant academic community
dedicated to the advancement and sharing of knowledge through
research scholarship. A key essential resource for both its research
and teaching is access to the research literature. The process
by which scientists disseminate their research findings, through
a quality controlled process of peer review, remains the essence
of scholarly communication. However the proliferation of research
material and escalating costs of journal subscriptions (far in
excess of inflation) has resulted in the University being able
to provide its researchers and students with access to a diminishing
proportion of the published research literature. This is a problem
that affects higher education institutions across the entire sector.
The University is committed to many of the new
national and international initiatives aimed at improving access
to the research literature. The Open University Library is a founding
member of SPARC Europe, the alliance of European Research libraries,
Library organisations and research institutions which aims to
advocate change in the scholarly communication market by supporting
competition and encouraging new sustainable publishing models.
We are institutional signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative
(BOAI), a statement of principle, strategy and commitment to open
access and to making open access publishing economically sustainable.
We are piloting an OU OAI (Open Access Initiative) Institutional
eprint archive which will provide us with the means of making
our own quality research publications freely available to the
international research community.
We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence
to this inquiry.
2. IMPACT OF
2.1 The Open University is forced to choose
buying into the "big deals";
Losing electronic access to key titles
in the "big deal" collection; or
Purchasing these individual titles
at greatly inflated prices
Big deal schemes have enabled us to provide
a greater "mass" of the journal literature to students.
Students find the cross-searching facility of these large collections
very useful. These big collections are relatively cheap for libraries
to set up and maintain. However once publishers have developed
these big deal schemes their pricing for electronic access to
individual titles often becomes very restrictive. They either
withdraw electronic access to individual titles eg Wiley or the
price for individual titles rises dramatically , as illustrated
by Elsevier. This means we are forced to either buy into the big
deal or lose our access to specific individual titles which might
be important to us.
2.2 "Big deals" may not give the
University value for money
To ensure that these "big deal" collections
give the University value for money we would like to integrate
their content into courses. However, although prices are capped
for the duration of the "big deal" license, at the end
of the licensing period anything can happen and prices can rise
astronomically eg Elsevier's recent new deal for UK universities.
Once academics have integrated these resources into courses either
the Library will be forced into absorbing these price rises at
the expense of other Library resources, or academic staff will
need to rewrite their course material.
2.3 Undermining of research process
The needs of researchers and students are very
different. Researchers need access to specialist journal titles,
but access to some of these titles has decreased for two reasons.
Firstly libraries are working with the same level of budgets they
have always had, and so buying into these large deals has meant
that some specialist titles, particularly in niche areas, have
had to be cut. Secondly some smaller publishers have not had the
funds to develop the electronic access that is now expected and
their material is not therefore receiving the visibility that
it deserves. It is becoming apparent that researchers are beginning
to restrict their literature searching to papers that they can
get hold of electronically. They are unwilling to go out of their
way to find material when using the web is so easy. This could
have a significant effect on the quality of both the research
process and outcomes if researchers fail to carry out comprehensive
searches for relevant findings in their field.
Recommendation: The Government should carry
out a review of the impact of publishers' current policies.
3. THE OPEN
A number of new publishing models are emerging,
such as SPERC initiatives and open access journals financed by
author page charges.
Recommendation: The Government should provide
incentives for exploring such new business models.
Smaller not-for-profit publishers are unable
to make their material available electronically.
mendation: The Government should provide funding
to develop an infrastructure so that not-for-profit publishers
can make their research articles available electronically.
There are conflicting views on the real costs
of publishing in the print and electronic media.
Recommendation: The Government should carry out a
review to ascertain the real cost of the research publishing business
Many publishers are in the process of converting
the back files of their journals into electronic media.
Recommendation: The Government should consider
financing the conversion of journal archives to electronic media
on the condition that the output will be made freely available
Both libraries and publishers are keen to move
to electronic only access to journals, because as a result of
this libraries could make savings in management of their journal
collection and publishers would only have to publish in one medium.
However the current system of charging VAT on electronic content
is a major barrier to this change as many of the savings libraries
could make are offset by the VAT charge.
Recommendation: The Government should reconsider
the charging of VAT on electronic content.
4. THE OPEN
4.1 The consequences of open-access journals
on the operation of the RAE
The consequences of increasing numbers of open-access
journal on the operation of the RAE is currently not great as
at present panel members are very focused on the well established
primary journal literature. They need encouragement to recognize
alternative sources eg open access journals. For change to take
place it needs to be demonstrable that the RAE is ready to recognise
high quality outputs published in these new journals.
4.2 The Open University's recommendations
on whether the Government should support such a trend and, if
The locus of power lies with the senior academics
who control the publication of the journals. The overriding concern
should be the quality of content, not whether journals are open
access or not. If senior, well-respected academics, were to set
up open access journals then other academics would recognise them
and start using them.
Recommendation: The Government should actively support
senior academics in experimenting with new kinds of quality publications.
If the open access journals were to make available,
`impact measures' and citation information could change the Research
Recommendation: The Government should encourage
the RAE to develop new quality indicators so that articles published
in new open access journals can be evaluated in an even-handed
manner in the Research Assessment Exercise.
Open access journals and university institutional
eprint repositories could save significant time and money in retrieving
material for RAE panel members.
Recommendation: The Government should consider
making it a national policy that all government funded research
output should be self-archived in open access University Institutional
5. HOW EFFECTIVELY
As more libraries move to electronic only access
of journals it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain copies
of articles on inter-library loan. Licenses are not standard and
many libraries are refusing to supply copies of articles in case
they are infringing the terms of their licenses. In this environment
the role of the Legal Deposit Libraries becomes more important
than ever. Provision of non-print publications is significantly
different to provision of print materials. However users do not
understand this distinction.
The recent extension of the Legal Deposit Law
is a significant step to ensuring continued access to electronic
Recommendation: Clear criteria need to be developed
which will ensure that all peer-reviewed journals will be captured
within the remit of the new Legal Deposit Law. It needs to be
made clear how copies of articles will be supplied to libraries.
6. WHAT IMPACT
We are not convinced that there is any fundamental
difference to the risks which existed in the print era. There
needs to be a system of peer review to monitor publications. However
there are new forms of peer review emerging with the Internet
that were not possible with paper. The electronic environment
could provide a more open system of peer review. With the informed
consent of all parties, reviewers' comments about the manuscripts
could be published alongside the manuscript so that everybody
could see the feedback. The Royal Society are carrying out a review
of how peer review operates at the moment and this could be used
to inform the new models. There could be a government website
available to debate methods that could be used. Websites could
also be used to improve the public understanding of science.