The HEFCE Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework kicks in 9 weeks from now.
The policy states that, to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 REF, authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts of journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. Deposited material should be discoverable, and free to read and download, for anyone with an internet connection.
The goal of the policy is to ensure that publicly funded (by HEFCE) research is publicly available. The means HEFCE have chosen to favour is the green route – by putting the AAM into a repository. This does not involve any payment to the publishers. The timing of the policy – at acceptance – is to give us the best chance of obtaining the author’s accepted manuscript (AAM) before it is deleted, forgotten or lost by the author.
Universities across the UK have been preparing. Cambridge has had the ‘Accepted for publication? Send us your manuscript‘ campaign running since May 2014 with a very simple and well liked interface allowing researchers to submit their work. The Open Access team then deposits the item, checks for funding and the publisher policies and then organises payment for open access publication if required.
To give an idea of the numbers we are dealing with at Cambridge, during 2015 the Open Access team deposited 2553 articles into our repository Apollo.
We have been reporting to Wellcome Trust and the RCUK over the past few years to indicate compliance levels with their policies. However the ‘compliance level’ for the HEFCE policy is a slippery concept. For a start, the policy has not yet come into force. Another complicating factor is the long term nature of the ‘reporting’. We will not truly know how compliant we have been until the time comes to submit to REF – whenever that will be (currently it seems 2021).
At Cambridge have been working on the assumption that because we do not know which outputs will be the ones that we will claim we should collect all eligible articles. However, the number of deposited articles Open Access team received over the past year represents approximately 30% of the full eligible output of the University. This might seem concerning in some ways, but it must be remembered that each researcher in the University will only be reporting four research outputs for the REF.
There are some articles that are obvious contenders for REF. By concentrating on researchers who are publishing in very high impact journals we have been trying to catch those articles we are extremely likely to claim.
During the course of 2015 we discovered 93 papers published in Nature, Science, Cell, The Lancet and PNAS. 33% of these papers were already HEFCE compliant. Of the remaining non-compliant papers we contacted 47 authors, made them aware of the HEFCE open access policy, and invited them to submit their accepted manuscript to the Open Access Service. Less than 40% of those authors who were contacted responded with their accepted manuscript. Therefore, even after direct intervention only 49% papers were HEFCE compliant, which means that still more than half of all eligible papers published in Nature, Science, Cell, The Lancet and PNAS during this period would not have been HEFCE compliant had the policy been in place.
The lack of engagement by members of the academic community with this process is a serious concern – and potentially due to four reasons:
- Lack of awareness of the policy
- Putting it off until the policy is in place
- Deliberately choosing not to submit a work because it is not considered important enough or they do not consider their contribution to be significant enough
- Some form of conscientious objection to the policy
We should note that the third reason is a matter of some concern to the University as it is not the researcher who decides which articles are put forward for REF. In addition, the University is interested in having a high overall level of compliance for REF as it considers making the research output of the institution available to be important.
Cambridge is no island when it comes to facing significant challenges in capturing all outputs in preparation for HEFCE’s policy. While the highly devolved nature of the institution and the sheer volume of publications may be a problem unique to Cambridge and Oxford, other institutions are still developing the technology they intend to use or are facing staffing issues.
In a concession to serious concern across the sector about the ability to meet the deadline, on 24 July 2015 HEFCE announced that there was a temporary modification to the policy. They now allow research outputs to be made open access up to three months after publication until at least April 2017 (and until such time that the systems to support deposit at acceptance are in place).
This means for the first year of the policy we have a small window after publication to locate articles, determine if they are in our repositories, and if not chase the authors for the Author’s Accepted Manuscript.
The trick is knowing that an article has been published. At Cambridge our ‘best bet’ is to use Symplectic which scrapes various aggregating sources such as Scopus. However Symplectic is hindered by the efficiency of its sources. There is no guarantee that a given article will appear in Symplectic within three months of publication. And even if it is, we have already discussed the low engagement by the research community to approaches from the Open Access team for AAMs.
Subject based repositories
So far this blog has been talking about using institutional repositories for compliance. But the policy specifically states: “The output must have been deposited in an institutional repository, a repository service shared between multiple institutions, or a subject repository“.
The oldest, most established subject repository is arXiv.org and it makes sense for us to consider using arXiv as part of Cambridge’s compliance strategy. After all, some areas of high energy physics, most of computer science and much of mathematics use arXiv as a means to share their research papers. In 2014, the number of articles that were deposited into arXiv.org and subsequently picked up in Symplectic and approved by researchers were 582 – approximately 6.5% of Cambridge’s total eligible articles.
If we are able to claim these articles for HEFCE compliance without any behaviour change requirement from our academic staff then this is an ideal situation. But how do we actually do this? There is a footnote to the HEFCE statement above which says that: “Individuals depositing their outputs in a subject repository are advised to ensure that their chosen repository meets the requirements set out in this policy.” And this is the crunch point. arXiv does not currently identify which version of the work has been deposited, nor does it record the acceptance date of the work. Because of this we are currently not able to simply use the work being uploaded to arXiv.
There is work underway to look at this possibility and what would be required to allow us to use the subject based repositories as a means for compliance. HEFCE themselves have identified under ‘Further areas of work‘ that “measures to support compliance in subject repositories” is an area of uncertainty and they will work with the community to address this.
It is possibly a good moment to take a step back from the minutiae of the means and the timing of the HEFCE policy and focus on the goal that publicly funded research is publicly available. We are in a complex policy environment. HEFCE affects all researchers but many researchers are also funded through COAF or the RCUK with their respective (gold leaning) Open Access policies.
Of the HEFCE eligible articles submitted to to Open Access team in 2015, after working through all the different funder requirements, there was a split of 44% gold Open Access and 56% green Open Access. Of the gold payments the split is approximately 74% for hybrid journals and 26% for fully open access journals. That said, the three journals with which we have published the most – PLOS ONE, Nature Communications and Scientific Reports – are fully Open Access journals with APCs of $1495, $5200 and $1495 respectively.
A highly relevant question is – outside of the efforts by our Open Access compliance teams, how much Cambridge research is being made open access anyway?
Open access articles
The Web of Science (WoS) allows a filter on ‘Open Access’. It does not appear to list articles that are made open access on a hybrid basis, only picking up fully open access journals. While these are not definitive numbers, it does give us some idea of the scale we are looking at. In 2014 WoS gives us a figure of 981 articles published as open access by a University of Cambridge author in a fully open access journal.
The Springer Compact to which many institutions (including Cambridge) have signed up means that now all articles published by that research community will be made open access. In 2014, the Open Access Service had paid for 21 articles to be made open access. In the same period across the institution we had published 695 articles with Springer. (Note that in 2015 we paid 51 Springer APCs). This means that for the cost of the Springer subscription and our APC payments for the previous year we will have a good proportion of Cambridge articles published as open access articles.
These two sets of numbers only allow for articles published either in fully open access journals or with Springer. It does not account for the articles where the University (or a Department or individual) pays an APC to make an article available in a hybrid (non Springer) journal. The upshot is – a significant proportion of Cambridge research is published open access.
Skip the AAM on acceptance part?
So what does this published open access research mean for compliance with the HEFCE policy? The updated HEFCE policy has addressed this:
“… we have decided to introduce an exception to the deposit requirements for outputs published via the gold route. This may be used in cases where depositing the output on acceptance is not felt to deliver significant additional benefit. We would strongly encourage these outputs to be deposited as soon as possible after publication, ideally via automated arrangements, but this will not be a requirement of the policy.”
This makes sense from an administrative perspective if the article appears in a journal where there is an embargo period on making the AAM available, forcing the University to pay an APC to make the work Open Access to meet RCUK requirements. It would avoid the palaver of:
- obtaining the AAM from the author
- depositing it into the repository
- having to check to see when the article has been published
- updating the details and
- either set the embargo on the AAM or change the attachment in the record to the Open Access final published version
However journals where there is an embargo period on making the AAM available forcing an APC payment is in fact almost a definition of hybrid journals. We know there are issues with hybrid – of the extra expense, of double dipping, of the higher APC charges for hybrid over fully Open Access journals. Putting these aside, what this HEFCE policy change means is that publishers have effectively shifted the HEFCE policy away from a green open access policy to a gold one for a significant proportion of UK research. This is a deliberate tactic, along with the unsubstantiated campaign that green Open Access poses a major threat to scholarly publishing and therefore embargoes should be even longer.
We are already facing the problem that hybrid journals are forcing the move towards green open access being ‘code’ for a 12 month delay. This is the beginning of a very slippery slope. We have been outplayed. It really is time for the RCUK and Wellcome Trust to stop paying for hybrid Open Access.
But I digress.
The message is confusing enough – three sets of policies and three different requirements in terms of the timing and the means to make work compliant and available. We are trying to make it as simple as possible for researchers – with limited success.
The move to widespread Open Access in the UK is a huge shift for the research community and those that support them. It would be very difficult to debate the ‘against’ argument for the statement that publicly funded research should be publicly available but the devil is very much in the detail.
It would be an incredible shame if the HEFCE policy is hijacked into a partial gold OA policy, but as administrators we are drowning in compliance. There needs to be a broad discussion across the funders to try and address the conflicting compliance requirements and the potentially negative effect these policies are having on the future of open scholarly publishing.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with HEFCE, Wellcome Trust and the RCUK. There’s plenty to talk about.
Published 25 January 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley