The implementation of open access - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Chapter: Factual Background

The Finch Group

7.  The Finch Group was set up following discussions between the Universities and Science Minister, Rt Hon David Willetts MP, and representatives of the research, library and publishing communities about the Government's transparency agenda. Mr Willetts was convinced that "research stimulates and fuels innovation and economic growth" and that, as a result, "to maximise UK innovation we need to maximise access to and the use of research findings".[4] The principle finding of the group was that the UK should "embrace" the move towards open access and "accelerate the process in a measured way", recognising that whilst there were clear benefits from open access it was important not to de-stabilise "what is most valuable in the research communications ecosystem".[5] The report made recommendations and proposed a number of actions to facilitate this, supporting their general conclusion in favour of a "mixed economy" of gold, green and hybrid open access.[6]

Box 1


Green open access is where a version of a publication is made available free of charge to readers, often through an online repository. Journals typically impose embargo periods on the placing of publications in such repositories to protect their subscription income and to secure a return on their investment. Both subject and institution repositories have been developed, and are particularly popular in certain subjects such as astrophysics.

Gold open access is where published articles are made available immediately and free of charge to readers. In return the author (or their institution) pays an article processing charge[7] (APC) to the publisher.

Hybrid open access is where a publisher allow authors to publish their paper in journals with subscriptions (and behind pay walls online) in the traditional way, or to pay an APC for it to be made available to readers free-of-charge, online, immediately.

Open access policies and funding

8.  In July 2012, RCUK released its updated policy on access to research outputs and associated guidance notes. The policy said: "Peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the research councils must be published in journals" that allow: "immediate and unrestricted access to the publisher's final version of the paper", or "deposit of accepted manuscripts that include all changes resulting from peer review" in repositories within six months (or 12 months for Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council funded research).[8] RCUK is persuaded that "at the current time, the Gold option provides the best way of delivering immediate, non-restricted access to research papers, which in turn provides potential value to UK research and the broader UK economy". RCUK is not against the green model and supports a "mixed approach to Open Access".[9] At the same time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) clarified that its research grant could be used for open access and announced its intention to launch a consultation to develop "a specific requirement that research outputs submitted to a REF [Research Excellence Framework] exercise subsequent to 2014 shall, as far as it may be reasonable to require at the time, be published in an open access form".[10]

9.  In September 2012, the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills (BIS) announced "pump prime" publication funds for 30 higher education institutions, with the aim of identifying issues that others might encounter.[11] In November 2012, RCUK announced that it would introduce a block grant for universities and certain research organisations to cover the cost of APCs, from 1 April 2013. RCUK used direct labour costs on grants received in the period April 2009-March 2012 to apportion the fund by institution. A cut-off point was set so that only institutions eligible for a block grant of £10, 000 or more in year five of the funding would receive it.[12] RCUK estimated that 99% of research council funded research papers would be produced in institutions eligible for a block grant.[13]


10.  Since this time, significant concerns have been expressed by both academic and publishing communities. Researchers are concerned about: limitations on academic freedom to publish;[14] the speed of transition to open access;[15] lack of APC funding for certain institutions;[16] and the decision to favour gold over green open access—which is the preferred model of some other countries.[17] Publishers have expressed concern about lack of clarity over who sets embargo periods where APC funding is not available to publish publicly-funded research immediately,[18] and embargo periods more generally.[19] Learned societies have also expressed concern about the implications of open access for their business models.[20]

4   BIS press release: New working group to examine research transparency, September 2011.  Back

5   Op. cit. Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publicationsBack

6   Ibid. Back

7   Sometimes called an article publication charge. Back

8   RCUK: Research Councils UK Policy on Access to Research Outputs, July 2012. Back

9   RCUK. Back

10   HEFCE. Back

11   The Government. Back

12   RCUK, RCUK press release: RCUK announces block grants for universities to aid drives to open access to research outputs, November 2012. On the assumption that the size of APC fund will grow annually at the same rate. Back

13   IbidBack

14   QQ 19-20. Back

15   Q 18. Back

16   Open Humanities Press, Royal Astronomical Society, United Kingdom Council of Research Repositories. Back

17   Professor Stephen Curry, Professor Stevan Harnad, Professor John Helliwell, Open Humanities Press, Royal Historical Society of the UK, University College London. Back

18   Q 41, press release by the Publishers Association: Finch, Willetts, RCUK, Green OA, and embargoes, August 2012. Back

19   Q 39, Open letter from the editors of 21 UK history journals, 10 December 2012. Back

20   Q 10, Q 42, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), Association for Learning Technology, British Academy, British Psychological Society, Geological Society of London, Institute of Physics, Society of Biology. Back

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