Open Access - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

3  The Finch Report: a U-turn in UK Open Access policy

Current open access policy in the UK

18.  The Science and Technology Committee's 2004 Report, Free for all? identified both the lack of access to published research findings and the problems in the academic publishing market as issues which needed to be addressed. Its key recommendation was for mandated self-archiving by authors, requiring authors to place their research papers in their university's repository shortly after publication:

We recommend that the Research Councils and other Government funders mandate their funded researchers to deposit a copy of all their articles in their institution's repository within one month of publication or a reasonable period to be agreed following publication, as a condition of their research grant.[23]

19.  Free for all? recommended that funders adopt Green mandates, with articles being made available through Green open access (hereafter, 'Green') shortly after publication. The committee did not recommend how the author deposit mandate should be enforced and monitored. As a result of both differing mandates and weak monitoring, UK self-archive mandates have to date achieved varying rates of compliance.

20.  Despite this, Green has continued to grow. In the decade since Free for all? was published, the UK has become a world leader in open access. The proportion of the UK's total annual research output that was available through open access in 2012 was about 40%, compared to a worldwide average of 20%.[24] There are 58 UK funder open access policies, all of which have a primary focus on Green,[25] and the largest number of Green mandates in the world, comprising 24 institutional mandates and a further 15 funder mandates.[26] The latest data from the UK Open Access Implementation Group shows that 35% of the UK's total research outputs are freely provided through Green, through an existing network of more than 200 active institutional and disciplinary repositories. In recent years the Government has invested more than £150 million in those repositories.[27] By contrast, at present, just 5% of the UK's total research outputs are currently published through the Gold route.

21.  The Finch Report does not include an assessment of the existing open access policies of funders and institutions in the UK, and their relative success. Furthermore, the Finch working group did not commission research into the scholarly communications market, but relied on some of the existing research in this area. Research Libraries UK, a member of the Finch working group, said:

Despite the 'softness' of these policies we now see approximately 40% of UK articles freely available. This is double the global average of 20%. Relying on the figure for the global average led the Finch Group to conclude that the green route to open access was not successful and created a focus on the gold route.[28]

22.  The Finch Report's conclusions and recommendations were therefore made without a detailed, up to date assessment of the existing open access policies in the UK, and worldwide, and of their success rates.[29] Despite the fact that Green currently provides seven-eighths of the 40% of the UK's research outputs that are open access,[30] the role of repositories was unequivocally demoted in the Finch Report:

The [Green] policies of neither research funders nor universities themselves have yet had a major effect in ensuring that researchers make their publications accessible in institutional repositories ... the infrastructure of subject and institutional repositories should be developed [to] play a valuable role complementary to formal publishing, particularly in providing access to research data and to grey literature, and in digital preservation.[31]

23.  We are surprised by this recommendation and by the Government's acceptance of it, especially given its considerable investment in repositories in recent years. The Government has said that it is "fully accepting [of] the case for Green Open Access as part of the mixed economy".[32] The evidence we received[33] suggests the problem with this is that the case accepted by the Government was based on the Finch Report's incomplete evaluation of Green open access, which did not consider the available evidence. We received evidence from a large open access publisher which said:

Repositories play a crucial role in the process of enhancing access [...] They provide a pricing signal in the market that "publishing", in the sense of "making public" can be done very cheaply, forcing Open Access publishers to demonstrate the value that we add.[34]

24.  The major mechanism through which the UK has achieved its world leading status (Green open access) has been given inadequate consideration in the formation of Government and RCUK policies. Neglecting repositories and consigning them to a relatively minor role in open access policy is likely to see repository infrastructure, which has been established through continued public investment, fall behind through lack of investment and monitoring.

25.  We are disappointed by the Government's conclusion that "development of infrastructure for repositories will primarily be a matter for institutions themselves",[35] not least because the Government has spent £225m on repositories in recent years.[36] We recommend that the Government takes an active role in working with the Joint Information Systems Committee and the UK Open Access Implementation Group to promote standardisation and compliance across subject and institutional repositories.

Strengthening deposit mandates to increase open access

26.  To combat low or variable deposit rates under Green mandates, many funders and institutions internationally have simply strengthened their mandates, with the most successful adopting an immediate deposit mandate that is linked to research performance review and research assessment. The evidence we received shows that authors are much more likely to archive their research papers in their institutional repositories if they are required to do so as a condition of funding compliance and if deposit is linked to institutional performance evaluation, research grant applications and research assessment.[37] Where embargoes are imposed on a deposit, institutional repositories have an e-print request option which allows a user seeking access to the research to request an e- copy from the author, who can choose whether or not to grant access.[38] The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (Europe) gave an example of how strengthening deposit mandates works to increase deposit rates, and therefore access:

RCUK revised its original Open Access policy in 2012. The original policy, implemented by all seven Research Councils by 2007, was the most successful funder policy in the world in terms of the amount of OA material it was achieving. (It was not the most successful policy of all: that honour continues to belong to the University of Lige in Belgium (collecting 83% of its annual outputs in its OA repository) and, since the whole Belgian HE system is now adopting the same policy conditions in conjunction with the Belgian national research funder, FNRS, Belgium is expected shortly to overtake the UK as the country leading the world in providing OA.)[39]

27.  In February 2013, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)— which was represented on the Finch working group— announced its proposal to require that research outputs must be open access to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework.[40] Whether the Green or Gold route is chosen, HEFCE's proposals would require that authors immediately deposit the peer reviewed text in their institutional repository on acceptance for publication in order to be eligible for submission. Articles which have been made open access retrospectively would not be eligible, "as the primary objective of this proposal is to stimulate immediate open-access publication".[41]

28.  Implementation of HEFCE's proposals in this or a similar form would provide the incentive for authors to use, and for institutions and funders to monitor, the network of existing repositories in the UK, through a strong immediate deposit mandate. HEFCE's proposals would in one way override RCUK's current policy since they apply to all submissions to the Research Excellence Framework. But they would also neatly complement RCUK's policy, since the two policies working in tandem would require that outputs are made available through the Green or Gold routes (subject to the author's choice), and immediately deposited in the author's institutional repository.

29.  We strongly support author freedom of choice between Green and Gold open access. If implemented, HEFCE's proposals would ensure that the UK's existing network of repositories was used and monitored effectively. We commend HEFCE for its considered approach to developing its open access policy, and support its proposals for the post 2014 Research Excellence Framework, in particular the immediate deposit mandate as a requirement for eligibility.

30.  We recommend that HEFCE implements its proposals, and maintains the strength of its proposed immediate deposit mandate in the appropriate institutional repository as a pre-condition of Research Excellence Framework eligibility.

31.  RCUK should build on its original world leading policy by reinstating and strengthening the immediate deposit mandate in its original policy (in line with HEFCE's proposals) and improving the monitoring and enforcement of mandated deposit.

Open Access worldwide

32.  There has been a lively debate over whether the Government's preference for Gold means that the UK will become a world leader, with a "first mover advantage",[42] or whether it is "out on a limb".[43] In evidence to us, the Government asserted that "the fear that the UK may be acting alone is unfounded",[44] and provided a list of 11 examples of Gold open access policies from around the world. However, not one of those was a policy of unilateral adoption of Gold funded by APCs.[45] In fact, the majority of the examples provided by the Government favoured Green through immediate deposit mandates, or gave authors complete freedom of choice between Green and Gold. Similarly, RCUK provided us with a list of European funder policies, showing whether Gold or Green was permissible, but not showing funder preference.[46] Only one of the funders listed by RCUK has an express preference for Gold. None of the policies fund APCs from their existing research budgets.

33.  Despite the Government's claim that its open access policy and preference for Gold is 'going with the grain'[47] of worldwide trends, we have received strong evidence that Green is dominant internationally, with the latest data showing that Green accounts for about 75% of all open access worldwide.[48] The UK produces about 7% of the world's published research articles.[49] The vast majority of the total global output is accessible only through subscriptions. Therefore, even as the UK invests heavily in Gold by funding APCs, libraries and others must continue to pay subscription charges in order to access the majority of the remaining 93% of the world's research output. As we have seen, the UK currently produces about double the open access output of the rest of the world, and therefore institutions can expect to pay to access the majority of research outputs published worldwide for a long time.

34.  The risk of the UK paying twice to fund Gold by paying APCs while having to maintain its subscription outgoings was recognised nearly a decade ago by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which concluded that "the UK would put itself at a financial disadvantage internationally if it were to act alone in mandating publicly-funded researchers to publish in author-pays journals".[50] The quantitative evidence we have seen shows that the costs of unilaterally adopting Gold open access during a transitional period (when subscriptions are maintained) are much higher than those of Green open access, and we return to this issue in Chapter 4.

35.  Government and RCUK should rigorously monitor global take up of Gold and Green and international developments in open access policy worldwide. This data should be used to inform both the reconvening of representatives of the Finch working group in the Autumn of 2013, and RCUK's review of its open access policy in 2014.

23   Free for all? p 102 Back

24   Ev 119 Back

25   Ev 117 Back

26   Ev 119 Back

27   Government Response to the Finch Group Report, July 2012, recommendation ix Back

28   Ev w125 Back

29   The Finch Report, paras 3.38-3.47 Back

30   Ev 119 Back

31   The Finch Report, recommendation ix Back

32   Ev 38 Back

33   Ev w125 Back

34   Ev 81 Back

35   Government Response to the Finch Group Report, July 2012, recommendation ix  Back

36   Government Response to the Finch Group Report, July 2012, recommendation ix  Back

37   Ev 121, Ev 72 Back

38   See Ev 72-5 for further information on different strengths of deposit mandate and their effectiveness, and a full description of the Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access mandate Back

39   Ev 121 Back

40   HEFCE has said it plans to consult formally on these proposals later this year. Back

41   HEFCE, Open access and submissions to the REF post-2014 (February 2013) para 12 Back

42   Ev 44 Back

43   Q126 Back

44   Ev 40 Back

45   Ibid Back

46   Ev 104 Back

47   Ev 40 Back

48   Ev 72 Back

49   Ev 54 Back

50   Free for all?, p 106 Back

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Prepared 10 September 2013