RCUK changes open-access guidance yet again

Research Councils UK has removed from its guidance on its open-access policy an exhortation for institutions and authors to make sure a “proper market in article fees” operates.

The passage was included in RCUK’s revised policy guidance, published in March. It said price should be “one of the factors that is taken into consideration when deciding where to publish”. It also noted that the research excellence framework’s lack of regard for where papers were published “should be helpful in this respect, in that it facilitates greater choice”.

The paragraph was interpreted as a response to worries that prestigious journals would be able to charge very high article fees safe in the knowledge that researchers would still crave the career boost that publishing in them would provide.

A spokeswoman for RCUK said the passage had been removed from the re-revised guidelines, published on April 8, because “it was felt that, on reflection, it wasn’t helpful”.

But she pointed out that a statement on RCUK’s own disregard for journal impact factors when assessing research proposals had been brought forward to the guidance’s “key points to note” section.

The re-revised guidance still contains the government-endorsed “decision tree” articulating the Publishers’ Association’s understanding of the policy’s open access options. However, it adds that the choice of green or gold “remains at the discretion of the researchers and their research organisations”. The Publishers Association have previously insisted that the decision tree entails that the gold route must be chosen when funding is available.

RCUK’s open-access policy came into effect on April 1. In the first year of its operation, the research councils expect 45 per cent of the papers they fund to be made open access - though their original stipulation that this must be via the journal-provided “gold” route has been amended to also permit the repository-provided “green” route. The latest guidance also clarifies that it expects 53 per cent of research to be open access in the second year of the policy; the earlier guidance merely stipulated “over 50” per cent.

RCUK has also responded to demands from the Lords Science and Technology Committee, which carried out an inquiry into open access earlier this year, that it make clear “with no ifs, buts or caveats” that where funding for article fees is not available, publishers will be able to insist on longer embargoes for papers made available via the green route, and that the scheduled 2014 policy review include an assessment of the policy’s effect on peer review and international collaboration.

Other changes to the revised guidance make clear that:

  • As well as standard research articles, the policy also applies to review articles unless they are commissioned by the publisher
  • The 2014 policy review will have an independent chair and a membership “drawn from various quarters”. Subsequent reviews will occur, “probably in 2016 and 2018”.
  • RCUK will be “mindful of” differences between disciplines when monitoring the impact of the policy and assessing how quickly the embargo periods for the humanities and social sciences can be brought in line with the sciences. 
  • Publishers must permit papers published via the gold route to be submitted to repositories “without restriction on reuse”.
  • The RCUK-provided block grant for article fees should be allocated “fairly” across researchers at all stages of their career.

A list of frequently asked questions has also been produced.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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