A new institutional open access fund for the University of Cambridge

Open Access is a powerful tool that enables researchers to share their research and maximise the impact of their work. However, the reality is that gold open access is a business model that is based on paying to publish, and it’s a business model that is primarily supported by research funders. What that means in practice is that gold open access often comes with a price tag that effectively excludes unfunded researchers.

The University of Cambridge has established a new institutional open access fund to provide financial support for unfunded researchers across the collegiate University. Researchers who do not have access to grant funds with which to pay the open access fees will be able to use the fund to pay the open access fees for their research or review papers in fully open access journals.  

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research explains that:

“This is significant step in ensuring that all University of Cambridge researchers can opt for gold open access publishing. We are proud to establish this fund that will be especially beneficial to early career researchers as well as other researchers in the collegiate University who are not eligible for the open access funds that are provided by grant funders. Significant inequalities remain in the global scholarly publishing system, however, so we continue our commitment to support different open access solutions that are available to any researchers, both within and outside the University”.

The new fund is one of the many ways that the University helps researchers make their research open access and complements our many Read & Publish deals, the Rights Retention Pilot and the facilitation of green self-archiving in the University’s institutional repository, Apollo. 

Who can use the new institutional open access fund?

Researchers who have a strong connection (typically research staff and students) with the University of Cambridge (including the Colleges) who have no way of paying for open access fees in fully open access journals.

What will the new institutional open access fund cover?

The fund can be used to pay open access fees for full research articles or non-narrative review papers in fully open access journals, provided there is no other way of paying the fee (for example, where there is no Read & Publish deal available to any of the authors, or where none of the author team has access to any funding).

How will the new institutional open access fund work?

The Open Access team can provide in principle funding decisions but cannot guarantee payment until a paper has been accepted for publication. Researchers are encouraged to seek an in-principle decision before incurring any fees by emailing the Open Access Team.

Where can I find more information about the new institutional open access fund?

There is more information on the Open Access website about the institutional fund, and the Open Access Team is available to answer any queries.

What about the bigger issue?

We are very conscious about the wider challenges with author-pays models of open access, for example for unaffiliated researchers and those in institutions without access to funding of this sort, and especially of the global equity issues that arise. We held several strategic workshops looking at these issues earlier this year and will continue to work towards finding a more equitable future for open access scholarly publishing.

Thoughts on the new White House OSTP open access memo

Dr. Samuel A. Moore, Scholarly Communication Specialist, Cambridge University Libraries

In the USA last Thursday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its decision to mandate public access to all federally funded research articles and data. From 2026, the permitted embargo period of one year for funded publications will be removed and all publications arising from federal funding will have to be immediately accessible through a repository. Although more details are to be announced, my colleague Niamh Tumelty, the OSC’s Head of Open Research Services, shared a helpful summary of the policy and some initial reaction here. I want to offer my own personal assessment of what the new policy might mean from the perspective of open access to research articles, something we are working hard to promote and support throughout the university.

To be sure, the new OSTP memo is big news: the US produces a huge amount of research that will now be made immediately available without payment to the world at large. Following in the footsteps of Plan S in Europe, the open access policy landscape is rapidly evolving away from embargo periods and towards immediate access to research across all disciplines. Publishing industry consultants Clarke & Esposito have even argued that this intervention will make the subscription journal all the more unviable, eventually leading to its demise.

Indeed, responses from the publishing industry have been mixed. The STM Association, for example, offer a muted one-paragraph response claiming tepid support for the memo, while organisations such as the AAP were more vocally against what they see as a lack of ‘formal, meaningful consultation or public input’ on the memo, despite the fact that many more details are still to be announced (presumably, following consultation). A similar sense of frustration was displayed by some of the authors of the industry-supported Scholarly Kitchen blog. It’s fair to say that the publishing industry itself – at least the part of it that makes money from journal subscriptions – has not welcomed the new memo with open arms.

Understandably, funders and advocacy organisations have welcomed the news. Johan Rooryck from Coalition S called the memo a ‘game changer for scholarly publishing’, while the Open Research Funders Group ‘applauds bold OSTP action’ in its response. Open access advocates SPARC described the memo as a ‘historic win’ for open access and a ‘giant step towards realizing our collective goal of ensuring that sharing knowledge is a human right – for everyone’. Certainly, for those arguing in favour of greater public access to research, the memo will indeed result in just this. But I still have my reservations.

My PhD thesis analysed and assessed the creation and implementation of open access policy in the UK. As Cambridge researchers no doubt know, the open access policy landscape is composed of a number of mandates, with varying degrees of complexity, and affects the vast majority of UK researchers in one way or another. This is for better and for worse: there is an increase in bureaucracy associated with open access policy (particularly through repositories), even though it results in greater access to research. However, when you remove this bureaucracy through more seamless approaches to OA like transformative agreements, there is a risk of consolidating the power of large commercial publishers who dominate this space and make obscene profits (a fear also shared by Jeff Pooley in his write-up of the policy). There is therefore a delicate balance to be struck between simply throwing money at market-based solutions and requiring researchers and librarians to take on more of the burden of compliance.

The problem with indiscriminate policy mandates for public access to research, such as the OSTP’s memo, is that they shore up the idea that publishing has to be provided by a private industry that is not especially accountable to research communities or the university more broadly. This is precisely because these policies are indiscriminate and therefore apply to everyone equally, which for academic publishing means benefitting those already in a good position to profit. Larger commercial publishers have worked out better than anyone else how to monetise open access through a range of different business models. As long as researchers need to continue publishing with the bigger publishers, which they do for career reasons, these publishers will always be in a better position to benefit from open access policies. It is hard to imagine how the individual funding bodies could implement the OSTP memo in a way that does foreground a more bibliodiverse publishing system at the expense of commercialism (not least because this goal does not appear to be the target of the memo).  

I do not mean to overplay the pessimism here: it is great that we are heading for a world of much more open access research. The point now is to couple this policy with funding and support to continue building the capacity of an ethical and accountable publishing ecosystem, all while trying to embed these ethical alternatives within the mainstream. This kind of culture change cannot be achieved by mandates like the OSTP is proposing, but it can be achieved by the harder work of raising awareness of alternatives and highlighting the downsides of current approaches to publishing. It is also important to reveal the ways in which research cultures shape how researchers decide to publish their work – often at the expense of experimentation and openness – and how they can be changed for the better.

So I am interested to see how the memo is implemented in practice, especially how it is funded and the conditions set on immediate access to research. I am also keen to see what role, if any, rights retention plays in the implementation and how US libraries decide to support the policy and the changing environment more broadly. Ultimately, however, the move to a more scholar-led and scholar-governed ecosystem will not occur on an open/closed binary, nor on a top-down/bottom-up one, and so we must find a range of ways to support new cultures of knowledge production and dissemination in the university and beyond.

Image taken from Public Domain Pictures

US requirements for public access to research

Niamh Tumelty, Head of Open Research Services, Cambridge University Libraries

Yesterday it was announced that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has updated US policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2022/08/25/ostp-issues-guidance-to-make-federally-funded-research-freely-available-without-delay/

Federal agencies have been asked to update their public access policies to make publications and supporting data publicly accessible without an embargo. This applies to all federal agencies (the previous policy only applied to those with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditure) and allows for flexibility for the agencies to decide on some of the details while encouraging alignment of approaches. It applies to all peer-reviewed research articles in journals and includes the potential to also include peer-reviewed book chapters, editorials and peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

The emphasis on “measures to reduce inequities of, and access to, federally funded research and data” is particularly important in light of the serious risk that we will just move from a broken system with built-in inequities around access to information to a new broken system with built-in inequities around whose voices can be heard. Active engagement will be needed to ensure that the agencies take these issues into account and are not contributing to these inequities.

While there will be a time lag in terms of development/updating and implementation of agency policies and we don’t yet have the fine print around licences etc, this will bring requirements for US researchers more closely in line with what many of our researchers already need to do as a result of e.g. UKRI and Wellcome Trust policies. Closer alignment should help address some of the collaborator issues that have arisen following the recent cOAlition S policy updates – though of course a lot will depend on the detail of what each agency puts in place. Researchers availing of US federal funding need to engage now if they would like to influence the approach taken by those who fund their work.

There continues to be a very real question around sustainable business models both from publisher and institutional perspectives, alongside the other big questions around whether the current approaches to scholarly publishing are serving the needs of researchers adequately. It is essential that this doesn’t just become an additional cost for researchers or institutions as many of those who have commented in the past 24 hours fear. Many alternatives to the APC and transitional agreement/big deal approaches have been proposed, from diamond approaches through to completely reimagined approaches to publishing (e.g. Octopus).

There will be mixed feelings about this. While there is likely to be little sympathy for the publishers with the widest profit margins, this move is sure to push more of the smaller publishers, including many (but not all!) learned societies, to think differently. We need to ensure that we understand what researchers most value about these publishers and how to preserve those aspects in whatever comes in future – I am reminded of the thought-provoking comments from our recent working group on open research in the humanities on this topic.

These are big conversations that were already underway and will now take on greater urgency. The greatest challenge of all remains how to change the research culture such researchers can have confidence in sharing their work and expertise in ways that maximise access to their work while also aligning with their (differing!) values and priorities.