Cambridge response to the UKRI open access policy review

Open access is transforming scholarly communication, and both the University and its Press are fully committed to the transition to open access publishing without embargo. It is inspiring us to think more deeply about how the research publishing ecosystem can be improved to the benefit of all society.

The open access policy review being conducted by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will have a major impact on how publicly funded research in the UK is published. The UK already has a strong commitment to open access, and we look forward to the new UKRI policy dramatically speeding up the country’s transition to open access.

Cambridge unites a world-leading research university, with a world-renowned Press and Library. We believe there is strength in this partnership, including the ability to challenge and test solutions that must work for academics, funders, publishers and research institutions. Our joint response to the UKRI policy review reflects the range of perspectives across the University and highlights some of the challenges and opportunities we face as an academic university and publisher.

In brief:

  • There are many aspects of the proposed URKI policy that we support without reservation. For example, authors should retain their copyright, journals and publishers should be more transparent about their services and costs, and key metadata, such as funder and grant information and author IDs, are vital for efficient scholarly communication and research evaluation infrastructures.
  • There is a conflict between the need for sustainable journal publishing models that provide access to the final published article and affordability for research-intensive universities. Collectively we believe that this contradiction in approach is not sustainable and necessitates a UKRI policy that is more flexible in the short term while supporting a much bolder shift in publishing practice that will require significant changes from all stakeholders. The Library and the Press are working together to explore bold innovation and disruption for scholarly communications built round a shared commitment to the goals of open research.
  • There are also areas where we agree that allowances must be made for the different needs of different research communities. While all research communities must be able to benefit from OA, flexibility on details such as Creative Commons licenses and third party content is needed to allow research, and international collaboration, to flourish. There are concerns from academics, Library and the Press, for example, about the potential for requiring open access to all monographs in the REF-after-REF 2021 in the absence of funding for publishing these monographs, around the cost implications of requiring open access to articles and monographs that include third party content and around unintended consequences for early career researchers in certain disciplines.
  • For books, we need the time and freedom to find scalable, sustainable approaches to OA. No model has been found so far that would allow us to publish large numbers of high-quality OA books at the global scale and reach of the Press. The impact of making pre-final versions of books open access after an embargo is inadequately understood, undesirable from the perspective of researchers in particular disciplines and may be economically unrealistic (because we believe book purchasing habits will change significantly under a delayed-OA approach). While new approaches are explored, we suggest a couple of options for UKRI to consider adopting: (i) broadening the definition of ‘open’ to include ‘free to read’ and (ii) allowing books to be published under a ‘transformative programme’, perhaps along the lines of the Subscribe To Open model for journals.
  • For journal articles, we cannot ignore an essential paradox. On the one hand, zero embargo Green OA depends upon subscriptions which are becoming ever more unsustainable as more content becomes OA. On the other hand, many research-intensive organizations are unable to pay the costs of their publishing without subsidies from subscribers around the world. Our academic University would need to comply with the proposed UKRI policy predominantly through the Green OA route, while CUP needs to transition to Gold OA. To resolve this paradox during a world-wide shift to full open access, UKRI must make two transitionary allowances: modest embargoes can be applied by publishers to support the subscriptions that sustain Green OA, and Gold OA in hybrid journals must continue to be supported. We want to see a scholarly communications landscape that has diversity reflecting the breadth scholarship across the disciplines, including smaller publishers and learned societies that require support in the transition to Open Access.

As we said earlier, we look forward to the new UKRI policy dramatically speeding up the UK’s transition to OA. We hope that the fine details of the policy will allow us to fully play our part in the transformation.

This post has been developed jointly by Cambridge University Libraries and Cambridge University Press and has also been shared at

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