Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 81

Memorandum from the Open University

1.  INTRODUCTION

  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 PUBLISHERS' CURRENT POLICIES ON PRICING AND PROVISION OF SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS, PARTICULARLY "BIG DEAL SCHEMES", ON THE OPEN UNIVERSITY'S LIBRARY AND THE TEACHING AND RESEARCH COMMUNITY IT SERVES

2.1  The Open University is forced to choose between

    —  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 UNIVERSITY'S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION BY GOVERNMENT, ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS AND PUBLISHERS TO PROMOTE A COMPETITIVE MARKET IN SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS

  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 nationally.

  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 UNIVERSITY'S VIEWS ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF OPEN-ACCESS JOURNALS ON THE OPERATION OF THE RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE AND OTHER SELECTION PROCESSES AND ITS VIEWS ON WHETHER THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SUPPORT SUCH A TREND AND, IF SO, HOW

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 so, how

  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 Assessment Exercise.

  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 eprint repositories.

5.  HOW EFFECTIVELY ARE THE LEGAL DEPOSIT LIBRARIES MAKING AVAILABLE NON-PRINT SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY, AND WHAT STEPS SHOULD THEY BE TAKING IN THIS RESPECT?

  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 journals.

  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 WILL TRENDS IN ACADEMIC JOURNAL PUBLISHING HAVE ON THE RISKS OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD AND MALPRACTICE?

  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.

February 2004



 
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