The implementation of open access - Science and Technology Committee Contents


The growth of open access publishing—specifically, making peer-reviewed journal articles available online at no cost to readers—is revolutionising communication of the results of research. The Government commissioned an independent working group to consider how to expand access to publicly-funded research (the Finch Group) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) revised its policy on open access following the report of this group. The revised policy has caused considerable concern in both the publishing and academic communities. Publishers are worried about specific requirements of the policy. Learned societies fear they will lose a valuable income stream which they use to support their respective academic communities. Academics are concerned about the policy taking a "one size fits all" approach, and possible unintended consequences such as lessening the quality of peer review, restricting ability to collaborate and limiting freedom to publish in the best journals. Both communities have expressed frustration that they were not adequately consulted about the policy.

In the light of these concerns, we conducted a short inquiry to consider the plans for implementation of RCUK's open access policy, with a view to offering recommendations to inform RCUK's revision of its policy guidance. We have concluded that:

  • RCUK must clarify its policy guidance to reflect its incremental approach to compliance in the initial five-year implementation phase of its open access policy;
  • RCUK must monitor the effects of its open access policy and its Autumn 2014 review of the policy should consider:

    (1)  whether different disciplines require different embargo periods, licences and primary models of publication, particularly in the light of evidence gathered about readership and citation half-lives;

    (2)  whether the UK, in stating a preference for gold open access, is moving in the same direction as other countries which are mandating open access (but not necessarily gold open access);

    (3)  whether article processing charges have adversely affected the number of international articles published in UK journals;

    (4)  effects on the quality of peer review;

    (5)  impact on the number of collaborations by UK researchers; and

    (6)  effects on learned societies.

  • The Government should conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of the policy, in view of their stated preference for gold open access; and
  • The Government should review the effectiveness of RCUK's consultation regarding this significant change in policy.

The Finch Group report emphasised the need for a smooth transition to open access to avoid damaging the "complex ecology" of research communication. We echo this call. The Government and RCUK must take immediate action to address specific concerns about RCUK's open access policy and maintain a watching brief in case mid-course corrections are required.

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