The implementation of open access - Science and Technology Committee Contents

The implementation of open access

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.  Developments in technology are revolutionising the methods of publishing the results of academic research. Conventional forms of publication include hard copy peer-reviewed papers, monographs and books. In recent years, there has been significant growth in the online publication of scientific papers. This can be in the form of drafts of papers in progress, un-refereed articles published by individuals, commentaries and blogs, and final versions (in substance, and sometimes format) of peer-reviewed journal articles.

2.  This inquiry focused on the electronic publication of peer-reviewed journal articles. Increasingly, academic journals are complementing their subscription-based print copies with electronic article access. Publishers take a range of approaches to income generation to cover the costs of reviewing, editing and printing. Some put articles behind a paywall—this means that only those paying a subscription to the journal or prepared to pay a one-off fee can access them. Others allow copies of the article to be deposited (under varying rules on whether pre-review, pre-print or published version may be shared) in subject or institutional repositories (online catalogues of articles), often imposing an embargo period so that readers wishing to see an article soon after its publication would either have to pay a one-off fee or subscribe to the journal. Others make all content available free of charge to the end-user and charge authors (or their institutions) a fee.

3.  Open access to journals (making them available at no charge to users) is growing and projected to continue to do so.[1] It offers potential benefits of rapid dissemination and exploitation of new research, but at the same time could de-stabilise the current business models of academic publishing if not carefully managed. The Government are committed to improving access to publicly-funded research, and, in October 2011, they set up an independent working group, under the chairmanship of Professor Dame Janet Finch (the Finch Group) to "examine how most effectively to expand access to the quality-assured published outputs of research".[2] The group reported in June 2012. The Government accepted most of the group's recommendations in their response published in July 2012.[3]

4.  The purpose of this short inquiry was to consider the Research Council UK (RCUK) plan for implementation of the group's recommendations in the light of concerns raised by both the academic and publishing communities, with a view to making recommendations to support an RCUK review of its open access policy guidance. 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.

5.  We issued a targeted call for evidence in December 2012, and details of the inquiry were posted on our website. The call for evidence is set out in Appendix 3. Seventy four submissions were received. We held five evidence sessions over the course of two days in January 2013.

6.  The membership and interests of the Committee are set out in Appendix 1, and those who submitted written and oral evidence are listed in Appendix 2. We are grateful to all those who assisted us in our work.

1   Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings: Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, June 2012. Back

2   Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings: Terms of reference, 2011. Back

3   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS): Government Response to the Finch Group Report: "Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications", July 2012. Back

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