Tag Archives: open access

Open access: fringe or mainstream?

When I was just settling in to the world of open access and scholarly communication, I wrote about the need for open access to stop being a fringe activity and enter the mainstream of researcher behaviour:

“Open access needs to stop being a ‘fringe’ activity and become part of the mainstream. It shouldn’t be an afterthought to the publication process. Whether the solution to academic inaction is better systems or, as I believe, greater engagement and reward, I feel that the scholarly communications and repository community can look forward to many interesting developments over the coming months and years.”

While much has changed in the five years since I (somewhat naïvely) wrote those concluding thoughts, there are still significant barriers towards the complete opening of scholarly discourse. However, should open access be an afterthought for researchers? I’ve changed my mind. Open access should be something researchers don’t even need to think about, and I think that future is already here, though I fear it will ultimately sideline institutional repositories.

According to the 2020 Leiden Ranking, the median rate at which UK institutions make their research outputs open access is over 80%, which is far higher than any other nation (Figure 1). Indeed, the UK is the only country that has ‘levelled up’ over the last five years, while the rest of the world’s institutions have slowly plodded along making slow, but steady, progress.

Figure 1. The median institutional open access percentage for each country according to the Leiden Ranking. Note, these figures are medians of all institutions within a country. This does not mean that 80% of the UK’s publications are open access, but that the median rate of open access at UK institutions is 80%.

The main driver for this increase in open access content in the UK is through green open access (Figure 2), due in large part to the REF 2021 open access policy (announced in 2014 and effective from 2016). This is a dramatic demonstration of the influence that policy can have on researcher behaviour, which has made open access a mainstream activity in the UK.

Figure 2. The median institutional green open access percentage for each country according to the Leiden Ranking.

Like the rest of the UK, Cambridge has seen similar trends across all forms of open access (Figure 3), with rising use of green open access, and steadily increasing adoption of gold and hybrid. Yet despite all the money poured into gold and (more controversially) hybrid open access, the net effect of all this other activity is a measly 3% additional open access content (82% vs 79%). Which begs the question, was it worth it? If open access can be so successfully achieved through green routes, what is the inherent benefit of gold/hybrid open access?

Figure 3. Open access trends in Cambridge according to the Leiden Ranking. In the 2020 ranking, 79% was delivered through green open access. This means that despite all the work to facilitate other forms of open access, this activity only contributed an additional 3% to the total (82%).

Of course, Plan S has now emerged as the most significant attempt to coordinate a clear and coherent international strategy for open access. While it is not without its detractors, I am nonetheless supportive of cOAlition S’s overall aims. However, as the UK scholarly communication community has experienced, policy implementation is messy and can lead to unintended consequences. While Plan S provides options for complying through green open access routes, the discussions that institutions and publishers (both traditional and fully open access alike) have engaged in are almost entirely focussed on gold open access through transformative deals. This is not because we, as institutions, want to spend more on publishing, but rather it is the pragmatic approach to create open access content at the source and provide authors with easy and palatable routes to open access. It also is a recognition that flipping journals requires give and take from institutions and publishers alike.

We are now very close to reaching a point where open access can be an afterthought for researchers, particularly in the UK. In large part, it will be done for them through direct agreements between institutions and publishers. Cambridge already has open access publishing arrangements with over 5000 journals, and this figure will continue to grow as we sign more transformative agreements. However, this will ultimately be to the detriment of green open access. Instead of being the only open access source for a journal article, institutional repositories will instead become secondary storehouses of already gold open access content. The heyday of institutional repositories, if one ever existed, is now over.

For me, that is a sad thought. We have poured enormous resource and effort into maintaining Apollo, but we must recognise the burden that green open access places on researchers. They have better things to do. I expect that the next five years will see a dramatic increase in gold and hybrid open access content produced in the UK. Green open access won’t go away, but we will have entered a time where open access is no longer fringe, nor indeed mainstream, but rather de facto for all research.

Published 23 October 2020

Written by Dr Arthur Smith

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Preparing for the end of COAF

The Open Access team are getting ready for the end of Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), which is due to dissolve on 30th September 2020.  

From 1st October 2020 onward, there are going to be changes to the block grants that we receive, and as a result, there will be a change in our policies on whether or not we can cover researchers’ article processing charges (APCs).  

We have outlined how researchers should go about securing funding for the APC’s below: 

Funder name Are article processing charges covered by a block grant? How do I pay for my article processing charge? 
UKRI Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Wellcome Trust Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Cancer Research UK Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
British Heart Foundation YesNo change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Blood Cancer UK No- authors must include cost in their grant application  1. For payment, contact research@bloodcancer.org.uk
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Parkinson’s UK No- authors must include cost in their grant application  1. For payment, contact researchapplications@parkinsons.org.uk,
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Versus Arthritis No – authors must request support direct from funder  1. Use funder’s Grant Tracker for OA support,
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Multiple funders acknowledged  If your paper includes funding from UKRI, Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK or British Heart Foundation then we may be able to help with the APC. Researchers should upload their paper to us for a funding decision

There is no change in the funder’s open access policies for the rest of 2020. However, there are significant changes due in 2021, specifically to Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.  

We have outlined the policy changes in the table below: 

Funder name Change? Outline of policy 
Wellcome Trust Changesee new policy document   1. Policy covers original research articles, 
2. Policy applies to papers submitted for publication after 1/1/2021, 
3. Papers must be made immediately open access (no embargo allowed) in Europe PMC, 
4. Papers must be published with a CC BY licence, 
5. Papers must be published in a journal that is indexed in DOAJ (Wellcome will no longer cover APCs for subscription journals)
6. The authors must retain their copyright. 
Cancer Research UK Changesee new policy document 1. Policy covers original research articles, 
2. Policy applies to all papers after 1/1/2021, 
3. Papers must be made immediately open access (no embargo allowed) in Europe PMC,
4. Papers must be published with a CC BY licence. 
Multiple funders acknowledged  Any papers acknowledging Wellcome Trust or Cancer Research UK must be compliant in order to access funds. 

To summarise:

From 1 October 2020, authors should continue to submit their papers to the Open Access Team as usual via our website. The Open Access Team will continue to advise on the best course of action to meet funder requirements, but we may not always be able to pay APCs. 

The funders’ policies remain the same until 1st January 2021. We advise authors covered by Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK to familiarise themselves with the changes to their funder’s open access policies, which are outlined in COAF’s table

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 UKRI 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 https://www.cambridge.org/core/blog/?p=36924.