State of the Nation: Finch, RCUK, OA and more

In the months since UKCoRR first blogged about the Finch Report and the new RCUK policy, discussions have been (and still are) raging about both the report and the policy and whether it presents the best way forward for the UK as a whole.  Open Access is seeing an increase in the level of media attention and institutions have begun the task of trying to work out what they need to do to manage the implementation of the RCUK policy.  In the run up to Open Access Week it seemed like time to take stock of some of the issues.

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost” [J.R.R. Tolkein]

The big issue is and remains the strong preference for the ‘gold’ form of open access.  Whether this proves to be the success that the authors of the report and the Government clearly hope it will be is dependant on a number of issues.  Will the rest of the world follow suit?  This is by no means assured as a number of countries with very strong open access cultures are openly hostile to the ‘gold’ route.  Will the journals reduce their subscription charges?  Evidence seems to be growing that they will but only in proportion to the number of article processing charges (APCs) they receive (see Elsevier’s ‘Double Dipping Policy‘ for an example).  So from the figures made available in the Finch report we could expect, at best, a reduction equivalent to the fraction of 6% of the world’s research funded by the RCUK.  Finally is this the route the researchers wanted?  Open access has always been driven by the passionate support of sections of the research community and this support will be needed if the policy is not to become another burden on already scarce research resources.

We have had a strong response from various advocates pushing for a revision to the wording of the RCUK policy that follows the Finch Report’s recommendations and an equally strong response from the RCUK that the wording is going to remain as it stands.  Leaving individual institutions with the issue of implementation.

“Money, money changes everything” [Cyndi Lauper]

For many UK institutions income from research is an essential part of their funding and they will not want to risk that funding by not implementing the policy fully.  But, by RCUK’s emphasis on institutions implementing the policy individually this will lead to decisions being made that could create an uneven implementation.  Each institution will need to find their own way to manage the block grants and the associated administrative costs.  From experience there is rarely a single way for publishers to handle the payment of these charges and while a new wave of broker services is starting to appear that may help in the future some institution’s finance rules don’t currently allow for the use of these services.  Policies will need to be developed by the institutions as to what to do if/when the grants don’t cover all the APCs.  Will they be able to find the additional money to cover the charges, or, will it be possible to find a ‘green’ route for those articles?  As with any system there are always going to be ways to ‘play the system’, leaving some researchers at a disadvantage.

One of the biggest complaints against the previous RCUK policy was that until compliance was strictly monitored and enforced the policy would never be effective.  In the new policy RCUK will be “extending existing mechanisms to include compliance monitoring for this policy”.  This will require additional information to be held about; the use of the block grants, research grants and against individual publications.  Hopefully new developments in this area will include a single reporting system for all the research councils and an mechanism to allow institutions to report on this information in an automated fashion.

“To [CC], or not to [CC]: that is the question” [with apologies to William Shakespeare]

One of the things that I suspect many of our members are going to be/already have been asked for is a simple set of guidelines to help researchers comply with the RCUK policy.  Issues raised here include the range of different licenses that open access journals or hybrid journal options publish their OA content under.  For example, many ‘all OA’ journals comply with the policy (using a CC-BY license) but most hybrid options don’t (as the mostly use the CC-BY-NC license).  As we have seen from work with Sherpa/RoMEO in the past any list of compliant journals is going to go out of date very quickly as publishers continue to alter their agreements and policies.  The RCUK policy also continues to leave the option of each of their seven component research councils to propose individual variations on the policy, which will potentially cause additional confusion, especially with projects funded by multiple sources.  Additionally awareness needs to be raised with researchers about what are becoming known as ‘predatory‘ open access publishers, the advice of knowledgeable repository staff is going to prove essential here.

On the licensing issue there is also work to be done by repositories who, in the main, do not require researchers to license their work to make it available.  As part of the policy implementation there needs to be a change in the way repositories handle deposits which will need to be managed carefully to avoid the license requirement becoming an additional barrier to deposit.

“May you live in interesting times” [Chinese proverb]

Many of the issues dealt with above will be decided at institutional level but now is the time for repository staff to use their knowledge as the experts in this area.  Many of us are already exploiting the raising profile of open access and the forthcoming REF assessment process to extend the profile of our services along with the coming expansion of the repository landscape with research data.  As repository staff we must use our influence to ensure, as much as possible, that all of our stakeholders, be they universities, researchers, repository users or research councils, get as much as they can out of the forthcoming policy developments as well as helping to inform the debate.

UKCoRR members face ‘interesting times’ but we have strong support from resources such as the two Sherpa services, RoMEO and JULIET, the new developments coming out of the UK Repository Net+ project and, of course, UKCoRR itself.

As one of our members, Natalia Madjarevic, put it recently we must “respond creatively“.

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