Derek Ager wrote an absolutely lovely book called the Nature of the Stratigraphic Record which has become a seminal work within the field of earth history. He alike n’s the stratigraphic record to the life of a solider in the trenches; long periods when not much happens punctuated by periods of blind terror! At times I sometimes think this resembles the life of a Pro Vice Chancellor and yesterday was one of the those days of terror. I gave evidence in front of the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee with respect to Open Access publishing.
They are currently investigating the implementation of the Open Access policy which was endorsed by Government and RCUK funding bodies following publication of the Finch report. Of particular interest are the issues around article processing charges referred to by the acronym APC’s. You may recall if you are an avid reader of the blog that the UK has endorsed following the Finch Report so-called Gold Open Access in which the author pays an upfront fee so that the reader can have unrestricted open access on publication. The exact opposite from the current subscription based model. The so-called Green Open Access model based on the use of institutional and subject based repositories is favoured by many within the academic community but not directly by government policy. The cost estimate of the shift to Gold Open Access is variously placed at between £30 and £50 million and imposes an increased burden on already stretched research funds. In theory in the long term subscript charges should fall but given that the UK contributes just 6% of global published output it is unlikely to happen quickly. In September 2012 the Government arbitrarily gave £10 million to support 30 research intensive institutions and in November announced interim measures to come into force from April 2013. Rather than simply support all RCUK grant holders the government adopted a complex algorithm which favours research intensives. The algorithm calculates ‘direct labour costs’ in RCUK funded projects as a proxy for ‘staff effort’ and uses this to calculate an APC value. The more ‘effort’ within a grant the more APC’s one apparently requires to publish that work. So if you have lots of RCUK grants, with lots of staff costs within them you get more cash, irrespective of the quality or nature of that research. Despite the fact that approximately 20% of BU’s research is RCUK funded and is outstanding we don’t exceed the £10k threshold and therefore will not receive any APC funding.
The obvious result of such a policy is off course to favour research intensive institutions and is yet another unintended driver towards research concentration in the UK. One of the most useful things that the University Alliance, the mission group to which BU belongs, has ever done is the report it published in June 2011 on the perils concentrating research funding. This is a beautiful and influential piece of work that demonstrates comprehensively that there is no link between research quality and the size of a research group; quality shines out wherever it is within the sector. Quality can drive growth, but size does not necessarily drive quality.
So sandwiched between the PVC’s for Oxford and Imperial I felt somewhat out of place but was able to hold my own, and make the points that I wished to make drawing attention to the challenge that institutions like our own, that don’t currently receive APC support, face and to draw attention to issues of research concentration. So where does that leave our own staff? It is worth noting that we launched our own APC or Open Access fund two years ago and that demand has grown by 32% over that time and we are committed as an institution to ensuring that our researchers can publish in the most appropriate place for them to be read and cited irrespective of whether it is open access or not. It is likely that we will double our Open Access Fund again this year and are committed to finding the funds to do so.