Tagged / Finch Report

RCUK to provide some universities with a block grant for open access publishing costs

open access logo, Public Library of ScienceWe’ve added posts to the Blog previously about the outcome of the Finch Report (Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications) (access previous posts here) which was published on 18th June 2012 and came out of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch. On 16th July 2012 the Government announced that it has accepted the recommendations of the report. The report recommended a balanced programme of action to enable more people to read and use the publications arising from research, and to accelerate the progress towards a fully open access environment, particularly for all government-funded research.

Upon publication, the Report generated some negative reaction from Russell Group institutions concerned about the cost implications given the output of their staff and the high proportion of RCUK funding they receive. The Government has responded to this by providing funding to some institutions to support the costs of OA publishing. This approach so far has been two-fold:

1)    In September 2012 the Government announced funding of £10 million, understood to have come out of budget underspends, to support a number of research-intensive universities to kick-start the transition to OA publishing and setting up funds to meet the costs of APCs (Read the BIS announcement here: http://news.bis.gov.uk/Press-Releases/Government-invests-10-million-to-help-universities-move-to-open-access-67fac.aspx). The funding will support 30 institutions, selected on the basis of their combined QR funding and RCUK income. BU did not meet the threshold and will unfortunately not receive any funding from this initiative.

2)    In November 2012 RCUK announced block grant funding to support selected universities to support open access publishing costs from RCUK-funded grants (read the RCUK announcement here: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/2012news/Pages/121108.aspx). Payments will be made from April 2013 to March 2015, with a mid-term review to assess the system is working. Grants have been calculated for individual universities based on the proportion of direct labour costs awarded on grants that they have received from April 2009 to March 2012. These labour costs have been used as a proxy of research effort leading to the generation of publications. Only universities that are eligible for a block grant of £10k or more will receive funding. RCUK have confirmed that unfortunately BU does not meet the threshold of £10k and will not receive any funding from this initiative.

Although BU has missed out on both block grants we are continuinging to support open access publishing, supported by a central, dedicated budget specifically set up to pay open access publication fees (BU Open Access Publication Fund). This has been live since April 2011; its use will continue to be monitored and the budget increased to cover the increasing demand from BU academics wishing to publish via open access routes.  There is no doubt that this fund will need to grow substantially over the next few years to cater for the changes in train.

Green open access publishing is of course possible using our own institutional repository BURO which is now even more accessible given the new interface provided by BRIAN which tells academics the publisher’s rules on self-archiving for each output when they log into the system; it is hoped this will increase the proportion of full-text articles available in BURO.

BU is encouraging all academics to continue to embrace open access publishing at least as part of the dissemination strategy for all current grants and to ensure that they bid for open access funds as part of future grants as this becomes possible (it is already possible with some funders, including Research Councils).

More Fall-Out from Gold Open Access?

Following the Finch Report, the Government’s endorsement of its recommendations and the statement of policy from RCUK, Gold Open Access (OA) and its implications are at the forefront of many minds.

To refresh memories: Green OA is where a pre- or post-print of a traditionally published article is placed in a publicly accessible institutional or subject repository, often with an embargo period of 6-12 months; Gold OA is where the author or institution pays the costs of publication (of the editorial and peer review process, etc.) of an article, known as the article processing cost (APC). Gold is now the preferred option of Government and the Research Councils.

There are currently just over 28k peer-reviewed journals; of these only 3k, or 13%, are open access; some others will of course be hybrid, combining Gold OA with subscription. But the subscription model, which has been with us for 350 years, is still dominant. If the Finch Report’s recommendations are followed, the next few years will see an upheaval in the mechanisms and funding of scholarly communication as we switch to Gold OA. The research-intensive institutions stand to pay far more, the research-light ones to save. Decision-making on where to publish will take account not only of impact factors but also of the new metric of APCs. Provided that universities can gain access to this information, publishers will increasingly be challenged on the combined metric, and not on subscription price.

It is in this context that the recent acquisition of Atira by Elsevier is of such interest. As we all know, Elsevier is one of the major scholarly publishers, which also has Scopus in its stable. It thus has a major interest in two ends of the scholarly publication chain: the citation data on which to judge a journal as a target for publication (Scopus) and the journals publishing the research outputs. The middle link of the chain is the research management system, of which Atira is one of the leading providers.

The acquisition can therefore be seen as a clever, perhaps aggressive, move by Elsevier to offset potential fall in revenue from subscription journals by controlling more of the publication chain and the information it contains, thus influencing decision-making.

Should the Finch Report have gone for green not gold?

open access logo, Public Library of ScienceLast week Matthew added a post (Decisions, decisions: where do I publish?) about the long-awaited Finch Report into expanding access to published research findings. The Report advocates a move to Open Access publishing for all government-funded research, a view which has been embraced by the Government. Open Access publishing is something that BU fully supports and encourages academics to undertake and just over a year ago we launched a central, dedicated budget specifically for paying Open Access publication fees on behalf of our academics (BU Open Access Publication Fund). Even so I am somewhat disappointed with the decision of the Finch Report and the reason for this is because the Report isn’t green, it’s gold.

The Report supports the gold open access model of publishing – this is where authors pay publishers for the privilidge of having their work published which, upon publication, is made freely available to anyone (no need for a subscription) on the internet. The green open access model on the other hand describes the situation where articles are published in subscription based journals as now, but a peer reviewed final copy is placed in an open access repository (such as an institutional repository like BURO). Unfortunately the gold model simply redistributes the costs of publishing by charging authors publishing fees up front rather than readers on a subscription basis, and by so openly supporting gold over green the Report is clearly supporting the commercial interests of publishers over the interests of UK research, universities and the general public. It could be argued that a better outcome of the Finch Report would have been support for green open access publishing by increasing the number of UK institutions and funders with green open access mandates from 40% to 100%.

At BU we are lucky that we have the BU Open Access Publication Fund to meet the fees of open access publishing (i.e. gold model) but what about if this budget cannot keep up with demand during a fast transition to gold open access publishing? And what about authors who don’t have access to similar funds and who can’t pay? Many PGRs and ECRs in the UK might fall into the latter group and a lack of published articles could put them at a disadvantage when applying for jobs and progressing their careers.

Last week the THE ran an interesting article on the Finch Report (Staggered open-access gold run ‘won’t break bank’) reporting that the move to gold open access publishing will be a steady transition rather than an immediate change. However the speed at which the Government adopted the Report’s main recommendations and promoted the benefits of the gold model, coupled with RCUK’s publication of a final version of their new open access policy (in which researchers are required to publish in gold open access outlets or self-archive outputs within 6-12 months, depending on discipline) and news that the four funding council’s (including HEFCE) intend to consult over plans to require all papers submitted to the next REF to be published in open access journals, gives the impression that the transition may be more imminent that the THE article suggests.

Overall it can only be a good thing that the Finch Report and the sector at large is so supportive of open access publishing – however I wish the Report had been a little less biased in its outcome and hope that universities are given the time required to make the transition smoothly. Thankfully BU is ahead of the game with the BU Open Access Publication Fund and we will continue to keep up with external developments to ensure BU staff are fully supported with open access publishing. We will also continue to support colleagues with making published outputs available via the green model of open access, i.e. self-archiving on BURO. Our new system BRIAN will tell you the publisher’s rules on self-archiving when you click through to add an output to BURO (via BRIAN). This will also be checked for you by the Library prior to the output going live in BURO.

If you’ve published a paper via a gold open access outlet we’d love to hear about your experience – do you think this has increased the impact of your research and has making your findings available quicker to a larger audience made a difference?

Decisions, decisions: where do I publish?

My beloved cat – Tilman Bennett – is sitting on the key board right now trying to help write this post as he often does.  We will ignore the fact that he has just dribbled in my tea and focus instead on when we first met in August 1997.  In those days academic publishing was relatively decision free – you wrote the paper, selected the journal from the one or two in your field and committed it to the post to await the verdict of an editor and reviewer in due course.  Fifteen years later everything is online with a bewildering array of journal titles to choose from and academics now keep libraries of PDF’s instead of cat-eared photocopies.  Despite these changes traditional publishing models remain largely the same; free to the author with the reader having to pay for the privilege of reading your work. 

This model has been challenged in the last few years by Open Access Publishing in which articles are free to read and the author has to pay for the privilege of being published.  There are also some new online journal titles which are free at the point of submission and for the reader as well.  This debate has been stoked further in recent weeks by the publication of the Finch Report which advocated a move to Open Access Publishing for all government funded research, a view endorsed recently in an article in the Guardian, although not funded, by Willets the Minster for Higher Education. 

The Finch Report proposes three different models of Open Access Publishing:

  • Gold Open Access: where the costs of peer review, editing and production are met by charging an author’s fee, but the article on publication is free to readers.
  • Green Open Access: where articles are published in subscription based journals as now, but a copy is place in an open access repository.
  • Green Open Access (Overlay): where articles are placed in repositories which are only open up to the public once peer review has been completed.open access logo, Public Library of Science

The government supports the use of Gold Open Access which they estimate will cost the research community around £40 to 50 million a year to ensure that all publically funded research is available free to the user.  This assumes that publishing models remain largely as they are now, with existing journals and the publishing houses that produce them simply switching production fees from the subscriber to the submitter.  This is a point worth returning to, but if one accepts this for the moment then you have to ask where this additional money is to come from and sadly the answer is from existing research budgets.  There is no new money on the table although publishing costs will become eligible expenditure within government funded research in the future.  The alternative of course is that researchers will change their publishing habits, especially where they don’t have access to publication costs from research grants or where institutional open access funds like our own [the BU Open Access Publication Fund] become increasingly stretched, to favour those publications which are free to both the submitter and subscriber.  This is an intriguing question; will open access change publishing habits?  One would like to think so especially in the face of the shifting cost burden, but in reality journal rankings and the perception of what constitutes a quality journal are so ingrained in UK academics, particularly as the unofficial currency of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), it is perhaps unlikely at least in the short term.

This creates a rather negative view on something which is actually a real positive to the research community.  Ultimately it is about allowing the free movement of knowledge between researchers, the public and business/industry to help drive innovation, societal gain and economic growth.  Removing the restrictions on the dissemination of knowledge is a big deal and one we should actively support as an academic community, or at least in my opinion.  The only questions are around the implementation of this ideal and where the burden of cost will lie between the producer and user of that knowledge.  The point here is that there are some excellent low cost solutions to Open Access.  A couple of weeks back I read a piece in the Guardian about how physicist’s use a discipline specific archive (arXiv, curated by Cornell University) to provide free access to their publications, in addition to publishing in a mainstream and conventional journal.

It is of course possible to do the same using our own institutional repository BURO which is now even more accessible given the new interface provided by BRIAN.  So there are lots of ways to follow the Open Access philosophy without necessarily incurring big costs.  It is perhaps a shame that one method was so openly favoured by the Finch report.

So far the response to the Finch Report from academics has been very positive since most researchers want to be read, but it is also a change and as we all know academics can be quite conventional in their outlook.  In this respect you can understand how the model of Gold Open Access appeals since it simply involves the journals we know and love just changing the cost from reader to author and most big publishing houses already offer this service.  There has been some negative reaction from Russell Group institutions who are concerned about the cost implications given the output of their staff and the high proportion of RCUK funding they receive, but otherwise it has been welcomed by most.  I have seen some comment from journals based around learned societies dependent on their income who feel threatened by a shift in publication models; something which is understandable and potentially an issue if the publishing landscape was really to change radically. 

This is the big question – will it change the publishing landscape for research in the future, or will the status quo remain with a simple shift in who pays?  This is an intriguing question since part of me would like to see the growth of free publishing options – free at point of submission and free to the reader – and there are some online journals that are growing in reputation that do just that, but in truth I suspect that as conventional souls academics will simply continue to publish in the same journals they have and look to their institutions or research funder to bear the cost.  I would love to see the publishing landscape change but I suspect that Tilman and I are living in an utopian dream if we believe this is likely. What is clear however is that Open Access is now something that all researchers will need to actively consider in deciding where and how to publish our results.

So where does this leave academics within BU?  Well we have had the BU Open Access Publishing Fund for the last 15 months supported centrally and we will continue to monitor its use and invest further in this fund to ensure that this caters for academic demand within BU.  There is no doubt that this fund will need to grow in future and while one could expect subscription packages to decline I doubt, being a little cynical about the publishing industry, that this will happen very quickly or in pace with the needs to invest further in our Open Access Fund.  I would encourage all academics with Charity or RCUK based funding to start to embrace Open Access Publishing at least as part of the dissemination strategy for all their current grants and to ensure that they bid for open access funds as part of future grants as this becomes possible (it is already possible with some funders, including Research Councils).  This already entered my own planning with respect to dissemination of the results from own NERC grant.  In short Open Access Publishing is set to increase and to be a big part of our futures and as publishing model change we will need to change with them.  Increasing our academic reach through Open Access is in line with BU’s research strategy to be more societally focused and to impact on the world in which we live.  In the meantime periods of transition and change require one to be adaptable and I have no doubt that we will need to be.  For those wanting a cat update, he is now asleep on the floor dreaming of a day when open access extends to the cat food cupboard!