REF 2020 open access rules not ‘scary’, forum hears

Reassurance and concerns stated over new framework’s requirements

Scared businessman

The proposed open access requirements for the 2020 research excellence framework are not nearly as “scary” as many people suppose, a conference has been told.

The plans, on which a consultation closed on 30 October, propose that 75 per cent of publications submitted to the 2020 REF must be open access following set embargo periods, likely to be a year for the sciences and two years for other disciplines. That percentage would fall to 70 per cent for the social sciences and 60 per cent for the humanities.

Adam Tickell, provost and vice-principal of the University of Birmingham, last week told the Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences conference (for which Times Higher Education was the media partner) that if all papers submitted to the 2014 REF by Birmingham academics that could have been made open access under current journal rules had been, the university would be “nearly” compliant with that policy already.

Professor Tickell, who was also a member of the Finch group on open access, pointed out that neither the REF policy nor the updated policy of Research Councils UK contained any “practical preference” for journal-provided gold open access – which, as it often requires the payment of a fee, has sparked concerns about where funding would come from – over repository-provided green open access.

He denied that universities’ control of RCUK’s block grants for the payment of article fees could allow them to impose constraints on where academics could publish. “I know of no university that would seek to do that,” Professor Tickell said.

Peter Mandler, president of the Royal Historical Society and professor of modern cultural history at the University of Cambridge, rejoined that even if managers did not seek such control, their control of the funds would give it to them anyway.

Professor Mandler, who has been an outspoken critic of RCUK’s open-access proposals, said he supported the principle of open access, but warned that imposing a universal policy formulated with the sciences in mind would discredit that principle in other disciplines, where it “doesn’t work”.

He had a particular problem with RCUK’s requirement of a Creative Commons CC‑BY licence, which permits all forms of reuse subject to proper attribution. This “propagandises for plagiarism” by indicating to students that it is permissible for them to “mix” scholars’ words with their own in essays, he said.

But David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said REF-related proposals do not mandate CC‑BY. He said there was a “long road ahead” in addressing licensing, and it may not be part of Hefce’s final proposals, due next March.

He said those proposals were deliberately framed to avoid the “thicket of problems” critics have raised with open access, allowing maximum progress to be made.

Mr Sweeney confirmed that the compliance targets were “intended not to be scary”. An alternative to percentage targets would be to require all REF submissions to be open access, subject to certain blanket exceptions.

But he favoured percentage targets, suggesting that an exception for all papers published in international journals, for instance, would not sit well with international moves towards open access.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Mandler's claim that CC BY “propagandises for plagiarism” is wrong. CC BY licensing has nothing to do with plagiarism, which is regulated by scholarly norms, not copyright law. Is there any evidence at all to substantiate the assertion that open licensing increases plagiarism?

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  • CC BY was devised initially to facilitate the 'mash-up' culture in the digital arts. It therefore fosters the creation of 'derivatives', in which elements of an original work are mixed up with other elements, which may be indistinguishable. The 'attribution' element requires only that the original work be acknowledged - e.g. it is sufficient to say that the derivative work is 'based on' the original work. This is exactly what we tell our students is plagiarism - when they mix their words with ours, without specifying which is which. (Even if they say in a footnote or a bibliography that they've based their new work on ours.) Neither scientists (who when given a choice frequently prefer a 'no derivatives' licence) nor, especially, humanities scholars are as happy to encourage this unattributed mixing as digital artists.

    I'm sure it's true that CC BY fosters some practices that we would all welcome, but the CC BY absolutists do no good to the cause of Open Access by insisting that it doesn't foster any bad practices. Creative Commons itself acknowledges that until recently it had little experience with arts and humanities scholarship, and it will take some time to sort out what kinds of licences are best to promote Open Access for different classes of work. In the meantime, as HEFCE has recognized, it's best not to commit ourselves to one particular licence just because that suited some digital artists and crusading scientists in the earlier phases of the Open Access movement.

    There is a lot to be settled still as to what exactly the various licences will and will not permit. For example, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether CC BY is or is not the best licence to enable data- and text-mining (and again people often make assertions about this based at best on guesswork and at worst on a poor understanding about what data- and text-mining even mean in a humanities work).

    I said all this to Tim Vollmer months ago. I know he gets cross when I use the word 'plagiarism', but humanities scholars get cross when they're told for no good reason that they *have* to accept one particular form of licence which is not necessary to put our work on Open Access. Let's focus on extending Open Access in ways that will encourage everyone to join in.

    For those interested in reading more about these debates, I refer you to the record of a seminar at which HSS learned societies, Wellcome, RCUK, HEFCE and CC were all represented, and at which a variety of views were cogently put: http://tinyurl.com/oyfcd4v .

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  • Stevan Harnad

    You've left out the most important component of the HEFCE/REF mandate: that irrespective of whether the article is published in a subscription journal or a "gold" open access journal, and irrespective of whether the journal embargoes open access, the author's final, peer-reviewed draft must be deposited in the author's institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication -- NOT only after the elapse of any embargo.

    This is the crucial upgrade to the Finch/RCUK mandate provided by the HEFCE/REF immediate institutional deposit requirement (which is also the one recently recommended by the BIS Select Committee): Access to the deposit may be set as open or closed, but the deposit must be immediate, and institutional.

    The result is that all articles will be systematically deposited, there will be a date-stamp (the author's acceptance letter) against which immediate deposit can be verified, and this effectively recruits all UK institutions to monitor and ensure compliance with RCUK/HEFCE/REF -- a mechanism crucially missing from the Finch/RCUK mandate without the upgrade.

    It preserves authors' full freedom of choice as to whether to pay for gold or merely to provide green (whether or not embargoed). It also ensures that everything is deposited immediately, green or gold, embargoed or not.

    And as a special bonus, the HEFCE/REF immediate-deposit requirement provides the institutional repository's "Almost-OA" copy-request Button, with which any individual user can request and any author can provide individual access to a copy with one click each. This will tide over researcher access needs during any embargo for closed access deposits.

    See: http://j.mp/hefceREFoa

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