Push for gold will cost millions, open-access report says

A transition to full open-access publishing will cost UK higher education an extra £50 million or £60 million a year, according to a long-awaited report on how the country should make the change.

The Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch, former vice-chancellor of Keele University, was convened last autumn by David Willetts, the universities and science minister.

The group’s report, Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Access to Research Publications, says a “clear policy direction” should be set favouring the so-called “gold” model, in which authors pay upfront to make their papers open access.

The report does not call explicitly for research funders to impose open-access mandates, but Dame Janet told reporters at the launch event that it was “reasonable” to regard publication as part of the cost of research.

For this reason, funders had a role in “encouraging or possibly requiring” those they fund to make their papers open access.

She said that the group, which consists of publishers, funders, librarians and figures from universities and learned societies, had been concerned not to recommend measures that would “damage high standards of peer review or undermine the very successful publishing industry”.

The report says that a “mixed model” of open access, subscription journals and so-called “hybrid” journals will continue to exist for several years, and it acknowledges that the transition period is likely to see the cost of publication increase, particularly if the UK’s moves are not reciprocated by other countries.

The additional estimated £50 million to £60 million cost includes about £40 million in open-access fees, plus £10 million to extend licences to relevant subscription journals to include all higher education and health organisations.

The balance of the extra money should come from the public purse, the report says, “by diversion of funds from support of other features of the research process, and by seeking efficiency savings and other reductions in costs from publishers and other intermediaries”.

The group expects its recommendations to “bring greater competition on price as well as the status of the journals”, and urges universities and funders to “use their power as purchasers to bear down on the costs to them both of [article processing charges] and of subscriptions”.

It says universities should use income from research councils and other sources to build up institutional funds to pay article charges.

In recognition of publishers’ concerns about the viability of journals if funders were to require authors to archive papers in open-access repositories within short embargo periods, it says that where funds for gold open access are not made available, it is unreasonable for funders to mandate open-access embargoes of less than 12 months.

But it says that publishers should minimise restrictions on the rights of use and reuse of journal content, especially for non-commercial purposes.

It endorses the publishers’ offer of walk-in access to subscription journals at all UK public libraries, and proposes a two-year experiment to see how much take-up there is from businesses, charities and the general public.

“Our task was to work out how to manage the [transition to open access],” Dame Janet said. “We have added an understanding of what the different parties would have to do to make this happen in a way that doesn’t destablilise any particular party.”

Mr Willetts said: “This comprehensive report will make a vital contribution to the development of policy on open access, which we will be setting out in the near future.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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