Open Access - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  Open access refers to the immediate, online availability of peer reviewed research articles, free at the point of access (i.e. without subscription charges or paywalls). Open access relates to scholarly articles and related outputs. Open data (which is a separate area of Government policy and outside the scope of this inquiry) refers to the availability of the underlying research data itself. At the heart of the open access movement is the principle that publicly funded research should be publicly accessible. Open access expanded rapidly in the late twentieth century with the growth of the internet and digitisation (the transcription of data into a digital form), as it became possible to disseminate research findings more widely, quickly and cheaply.

2.  Whilst there is widespread agreement that the transition to open access is essential in order to improve access to knowledge, there is a lack of consensus about the best route to achieve it. To achieve open access at scale in the UK, there will need to be a shift away from the dominant subscription-based business model. Inevitably, this will involve a transitional period and considerable change within the scholarly publishing market.

3.  For the UK to transition to open access, an effective, functioning and competitive market in scholarly communications will be vital. The evidence we saw over the course of this inquiry shows that this is currently far from the case, with journal subscription prices rising at rates that are unsustainable for UK universities and other subscribers. There is a significant risk that the Government's current open access policy will inadvertently encourage and prolong the dysfunctional elements of the scholarly publishing market, which are a major barrier to access.

The Finch Report's recommendation for Gold funded by Article Processing Charges

4.  The Government has said that it is committed to ensuring that publicly funded research should be accessible free of charge.[3] Open access is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' policy of investment in research, development and innovation, and also part of the Government's wider transparency agenda.

5.  In October 2011, BIS commissioned an independent working group chaired by Dame Janet Finch to examine how to expand access to the quality assured published outputs of research, including publicly funded research. The working group reported in June 2012. The Finch Report recommended that in order to expand access, there should be a "mixed model with a range of channels to publication",[4] which would be a combination of subscriptions, hybrid and fully open access publishing and repositories.

6.  The key recommendation was for "a clear policy direction" towards Gold open access funded by article processing charges (APCs) as the "main vehicle" for publication of research.[5] On the same day that the Government response was issued, Research Councils UK (RCUK) issued its revised open access policy and guidance, setting out its preference for Gold funded by APCs. Neither the Government nor RCUK undertook public consultation before announcing their policies.

7.  Gold and Green open access are the two most common routes to providing open access. Authors who opt for Gold open access publish their articles in an open access journal that provides free immediate open access to all of its articles on the publisher's website. The publisher may or may not charge the author an Article Processing Charge (APC) to publish the article.

8.  Authors opting for Green open access publish in any subscription journal, and then make their peer-reviewed final draft freely accessible online by self-archiving or depositing the article in a repository (either institutional, such as University College London's repository UCL Discovery,[6] or disciplinary, such as arXiv,[7] for research in high energy physics) upon acceptance for publication. Green Open Access can be immediate or embargoed. 60% of journals allow authors to self-archive their work and make it freely available on publication.[8] Embargoed articles can usually be accessed by sending an automatic request to the author for an e-print of the article.

Our inquiry

9.  We announced our inquiry into open access in January 2013, with the following terms of reference:

  • The Government's acceptance of the recommendations of the Finch Group Report 'Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications', including its preference for the 'gold' over the 'green' open access model;
  • Rights of use and re-use in relation to open access research publications, including the implications of Creative Commons 'CC-BY' licences;
  • The costs of article processing charges (APCs) and the implications for research funding and for the taxpayer; and
  • The level of 'gold' open access uptake in the rest of the world versus the UK, and the ability of UK higher education institutions to remain competitive.

10.  The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's report The implementation of open access (February 2013) considered RCUK's plan for implementation of the Finch Report's recommendations "in the light of concerns raised by both the academic and publishing communities",[9] and stated:

We have accepted that the Government are committed to the policy reflected in the Finch Group's recommendations. We have not, therefore, challenged the conclusions of the Finch Group, but confined the scope of this inquiry to considering their implementation.[10]

11.  The primary difference in focus between our inquiry and that of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is that we have conducted a wider examination of the conclusions and recommendations of the Finch Report, as reflected in the Government's open access policy. In the course of our inquiry we received over one hundred written submissions and held two oral evidence sessions with representatives of the publishing industry (both commercial and not for profit); learned societies; RCUK; Higher Education Funding Council for England; a leading economist and academic expert on open access; representatives of the Higher Education sector, and the Government. We would like to place on record our thanks to all those who contributed to this inquiry.

3   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth , December 2011, paras 6.6-6.8 Back

4   The Finch Report, para 9.31 Back

5   The Finch Report, para 3 Back

6   Ev w183 Back

7   Ev w187 Back

8   Ev 116 and Back

9   House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, The implementation of open access, February 2013, para 4 Back

10   Ibid Back

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Prepared 10 September 2013