Tag Archives: open access

Cambridge Open Access spend 2013-2018

Since 2013, the Open Access Team has been helping Cambridge researchers, funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the consortium of biomedical funders which make up the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), to meet their Open Access obligations. Both RCUK (now part of UKRI) and COAF have Open Access policies which have a preference for ‘gold’, i.e. the published work should be Open Access immediately at the time of publication. Implementing these policies has come at a significant cost. In this time, Cambridge has been awarded just over £10 million from RCUK and COAF to implement their Open Access policies, and the Open Access Team has diligently used this funding to maximum effect.

Figure 1. Comparison of combined RCUK/COAF grant spend and available funds, April 2013 – March 2018.

Initially, expenditure was slow which allowed the Open Access Team to maintain a healthy balance that could guarantee funding for almost any paper which met a few basic requirements. However, since January 2016 expenditure has gradually been catching up on the available funds which has made funding decisions more difficult (specifically Open Access deals tied to multi-year publisher subscriptions). In the first three months of 2018 average monthly expenditure on the RCUK block grant alone exceeded £160,000. We are quickly reaching the point where expenditure will outstrip the available grants.

One technical change which has particularly affected our management of the block grants was RCUK’s decision last year to move away from a direct cash award (which could be rolled over year to year) to a more tightly managed research grant. In the past, carrying over underspend has given us some flexibility in the management of the RCUK funds, whereas the more restrictive style of research grant will mean that any underspend will need to be returned at the end of the grant period, while any overspend cannot be deferred into the next grant period. As we are now dealing with a fixed budget, the Open Access Team will need to ensure that expenditure is kept within the limits of the grant. This is difficult when we have no control over where or when our researchers publish.

Funding from COAF (which is also managed as though it is a research grant) has generally matched our total annual spend quite closely, but the strict grant management rules have caused some problems, especially in the transition period between one grant and another. However, unlike RCUK, the Wellcome Trust will provide supplementary funding in addition to the main COAF award if it is exhausted, and the other COAF partners have similar procedures in place to manage Open Access payments beyond the end of the grant.

Where does it all go?

Most of our expenditure (91%) goes on article processing charges (APCs), as perhaps one might expect, but the block grants are also used to support the staff of the Open Access Team (3%), helpdesk and repository systems (2%), page and colour charges (2%), and publisher memberships (1%) (where this results in a reduced APC). The majority of APCs we’ve paid go towards hybrid journals, which represent approximately 80% of total APC spend.

So let’s take a look at which publishers have received the most funds. We’ve tried to match as much of our raw financial information we have to specific papers, although some of our data is either incomplete or we can’t easily link a payment back to a specific article, particularly if we look back to 2013-2015 when our processes were still developing. Nonetheless, the average APC paid over the last 5 years was £2,291 (inc. 20% VAT), but as can be seen from Table 1, average APCs have been rising year on year at a rate of 7% p.a., significantly higher than inflation. Price increases at this rate are not sustainable in the long term – by 2022 we could be paying on average £3000 per article.

Table 1. Average APC by publication year of article (where known).

Year of publication Average APC paid (£)
2013  £1,794
2014  £1,935
2015  £2,044
2017  £2,187
2018  £2,336

Elsevier has been by far the largest recipient of block grant funds, receiving 29.4% of all APC expenditure from the RCUK and COAF awards (over £2.5 million), though only accounting for 25.5% of articles. In the same time SpringerNature also received in excess of £1 million (which as we’ll see below has mostly been spent on two titles). With such a substantial set of data we can now begin to explore the relative value that each publisher offers. Take for example Taylor & Francis (£107,778 for 120 articles) compared to Wolters Kluwer (£119,551 for 35 articles). Both publishers operate mostly hybrid OA journals and yet the relative value is significantly different. What is so fundamentally different between publishers that such extreme examples as this should exist?

Table 2. Top 20 publishers by combined total RCUK/COAF APC spend 2013-2018.

Value of APCs paid Number of APCs paid Avg. APC paid
Publisher £ % N % £
Elsevier £2,559,736 29.4% 971 25.5% £2,636
SpringerNature £1,050,774 12.1% 402 10.6% £2,614
Wiley £808,847 9.3% 279 7.3% £2,899
American Chemical Society £411,027 4.7% 251 6.6% £1,638
Oxford University Press £379,647 4.4% 169 4.4% £2,246
PLOS £267,940 3.1% 168 4.4% £1,595
BioMed Central £245,006 2.8% 153 4.0% £1,601
Institute of Physics £189,434 2.2% 98 2.6% £1,933
Royal Society of Chemistry £156,018 1.8% 106 2.8% £1,472
BMJ Publishing £144,001 1.7% 68 1.8% £2,118
Company of Biologists £140,609 1.6% 50 1.3% £2,812
Wolters Kluwer £119,551 1.4% 35 0.9% £3,416
Taylor & Francis £107,778 1.2% 120 3.2% £898
Frontiers £103,011 1.2% 61 1.6% £1,689
Cambridge University Press £77,139 0.9% 38 1.0% £2,030
Royal Society £73,890 0.8% 52 1.4% £1,421
Society for Neuroscience £69,943 0.8% 26 0.7% £2,690
American Society for Microbiology £63,056 0.7% 36 0.9% £1,752
American Heart Association £53,696 0.6% 14 0.4% £3,835
Optical Society of America £39,463 0.5% 17 0.4% £2,321
All other articles £1,654,228 19.0% 690 18.1% £2,397
Grand Total £8,714,794 100.0% 3,804 100.0% £2,291

Next, journal level metrics. The most popular journal that we pay APCs for is Nature Communications, followed closely by Scientific Reports. Both of these are SpringerNature titles, and indeed these two titles make up the bulk of our total APC spend with SpringerNature. Yet these two journals represent significantly different approaches to Open Access. Nature Communications, along with Cell and Cell Reports, are some of the most expensive routes to making research publications Open Access, whereas Scientific Reports and PLOS One sit at the lower end of the spectrum. It is interesting that we haven’t seen a particularly popular Open Access journal fill the niche between Nature Communications and Scientific Reports.

Figure 2. APC number and total spend by journal. In the last five years, nearly £450,000 has been spent on articles published in Nature Communications.


Managing the future

While the OA block grants have kept pace with overall expenditure so far, continuing monthly expenditure of £160,000 would risk overspending on the RCUK grant for 2018/19. To counter this possible outcome the University has agreed a set of funding guidelines to manage the RCUK (from now on known as Research Councils) and COAF awards. For Research Councils’ funded papers the new guidelines place an emphasis on fully Open Access journals and hybrid journals where the publisher is taking a sustainable approach to managing the transition to Open Access. We’ve spent a lot of money over the last five years, yet it’s not clear that the influx of cash from RCUK and COAF has had any meaningful impact on the overall publishing landscape. Many publishers continue to reap huge windfalls via hybrid APCs, yet they are not serious about their commitment to Open Access.

In the future, we’ll be demanding better deals from publishers before we support payments to hybrid journals so that we can effect a faster transition to a fully Open Access world.

Published 22 October 2018
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
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Lessons learned from Jisc Research Data Champions

In 2017 four Cambridge researchers received grants from Jisc to develop and share their research data management practices. In this blog, the four awardees each highlight one aspect of their work as a Jisc Data Champion.

The project

All four Champions embarked on a range of activities throughout the year including creating local communities interested in RDM practices, delivering training, running surveys to understand their department better, creating ‘how-to’ guides for would-be RDM mentors and testing Samvera as part of RDSS. They were excited by the freedom that the grant gave them to try out whatever RDM related activities they wanted, which meant they could develop their skills and see ideas come to fruition and make them reusable for others. For example, Annemarie Eckes developed a questionnaire on RDM practices for PhD students and Sergio Martínez Cuesta has posted his training courses on GitHub.  

However, throughout the duration of the award they also found some aspects of championing good RDM disconcerting. Whilst some sessions proved popular, others had very low attendee figures, even when a previous iteration of the session was well attended. They all shared the sense of frustration often felt by central RDM services that it is getting people to initially engage and turn up to a session that is the hard part. However, when people did come they found the sessions very useful, particularly because the Champions were able to tailor it specifically to the audience and discipline and the similar background of all the attendees provided an extra opportunity for exchanging advice and ideas that were most relevant.

The Champions tried out many different things. The Jisc Research Data Champions were expected to document and publicise their research data management (RDM) experiences and practices and contribute to the Jisc Research Data Shared Service (RDSS) development. Here the Champions each highlight one thing they tried out, which we hope will help others with their RDM engagement.

BYOD (Bring your own data)

Champion: Annemarie Eckes, PhD student, Department of Geography

The “Bring your own data” workshop was intended for anyone who thought their project data needed sorting, they needed better documentation, or even they needed to find out who is in charge or the owner of certain data. I set it up to give attendees time and space to do any kind of data-management related tasks: clean up their data, tidy up their computer/ email inbox, etc. The workshop was, really, for everyone whether at the start of their project and at the planning stage or in the middle of a project and had neglected their data management to some extent.

For the workshop the participants needed a laptop or login for the local computers to access their data and a project to tidy up or prepare, that can be done within two hours. I provided examples of file naming conventions and folder structures as well as instructions on how to write good READMEs (messages to your future self) and a data audit framework to give participants some structure to their organisation. After a brief introductory presentation about the aims and the example materials I provided, people would spend the rest of the time tidying up their data or in discussions with the other participants.

While this was an opportunity for the participants to sit down and sort out their digital files, I also wanted participants to talk to each other about their data organisation issues and data exchange solutions. Once I got everyone talking, we soon discovered that we have similar issues and were able to exchange information on very specific solutions.

1-on-1 RDM Mentoring

Champion: Andrew Thwaites, postdoc, Department of Psychology

I decided to trial 1-on-1 RDM mentoring as a way to customise RDM support for individual researchers in my department. The aim was that by the end of the 1-on-1 session, the mentee should understand how to a) share their data appropriately at the end of their project, and b) improve on their day-to-day research data management practice.

Before the meeting, I encouraged the mentee to compile a list of funders, and their funder’s data sharing requirements. During the meeting, the mentee and I would make a list of the data in the mentees project that they are aiming to share, and then I would then help them to choose a repository (or multiple repositories) to share this data on, and I’d also assist in designing the supporting documentation to accompany it. During the sessions I also had conversations about about GDPR, anonymising data, internal documentation and day-to-day practices (file naming conventions, file backups etc.) with the mentee.

As far as possible, I provided non-prescriptive advice, with the aim being to help the mentee make an informed decision, rather than forcing them into doing what I thought was best.

Embedding RDM  

Champion: Sergio Martinez Cuesta, research associate, CRUK-CI and Department of Chemistry

I came to realise early in the Jisc project that stand-alone training sessions focused exclusively on RDM concepts were not successful as students and researchers found them too abstract, uninteresting or detached from their day-to-day research or learning activities. I think the aerial view of the concept of 1-on-1 mentoring and BYOD sessions is beautiful. However, in my opinion, both strategies may face challenges with necessary numbers of mentors/trainers increasing unsustainably as the amount of researchers needing assistance grows and the research background of the audience becomes more diverse.

To facilitate take-up, I tapped into the University’s lists of oversubscribed computational courses and found that many researchers and students already shared interests in learning programming languages, data analysis skills and visualisation in Python and R. I explored how best to modify some of the already-available courses with an aim of extending the offer after having added some RDM concepts to them. The new courses were prepared and delivered during 2017-2018. Some of the observations I made were:

  • Learning programming naturally begs for proper data management as research datasets and tables need to be constantly accessed and newly created. It was helpful to embed RDM concepts (e.g. appropriate file naming and directory structure) just before showing students how to open files within a programming language.
  • The training of version control using git required separate sessions. Here students and researchers also discover how to use GitHub, which later helps them to make their code and analyses more reproducible, create their own personal research websites …
  • Gaining confidence in programming, structuring data / directories and version control in general helps students to acknowledge that research is more robust when open and contrasted by other researchers. Learning how researchers can identify themselves in a connected world with initiatives such as ORCID was also useful.

Brown Bag Lunch Seminar Series: The Productive Researcher

Champion: Melissa Scarpate, postdoc, Faculty of Education

I created the Productive Researcher seminar series to provide data management and Open Access information and resources to researchers at the Faculty of Education (FoE). The aim of the brown bag lunch format was to create an informal session where questions, answers and time for discussion could be incorporated. I structured the seminars so they covered 1) a presentation and discussion of data management and storage; 2) a presentation about Open Access journals and writing publications; 3) a presentation on grant writing where Open Access was highlighted.

While the format of the series was designed to increase attendance, the average was four attendees per session. The majority of attendees were doctoral students and postdocs who had a keen interest in properly managing their data for their theses or projects. However, I suspect it may be the case that those attending already understood data management processes and resources.

In conclusion, I think that whilst the individuals that attended these seminars found the content helpful (per their feedback) the impact of the seminars was extremely limited. Therefore, my recommendation would be to have all doctoral students take a mandatory training class on data management and Open Access topics as part of their methodological training. Furthermore, I think it may be most helpful in reaching postdocs and more senior researchers to have a mandated data management meetings with a data manager to discuss their data management and Open Access plans prior to submitting any grant proposals. Due to new laws and policies on data (GDPR) this seems a necessary step to ensure compliance and excellence in research.

Published 2 October 2018
Compiled and edited by Dr Lauren Cadwallader from contributions by Annemarie Eckes, Dr Andrew Thwaites, Dr Sergio Martinez Cuesta, Dr Melissa Scarpate
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The Plan S conversation continues

Last week, the 10th Conference of the Open Access Publishing Association was held in Vienna (see the blog about the event). On the Tuesday afternoon Robert-Jan Smits spoke as part of a panel about Plan S [this link to a video of his talk was added 3 October 2018]. It was a calm measured discussion where he thanked many people who had worked with them to develop the plan. He noted that  things went ‘wild’ after releasing the plan, with over 70,000 tweets on the first day. The comments, he said, were mostly positive but there are some negative comments from publishers and some academics – which not surprising  because the plan is so robust. He also noted multiple positive comments from developing countries, thanking him “because they struggle to access research outputs”.

There were some suggestions that came from the floor. One was the need for transparency in pricing. Questions were asked about infrastructure and how the plan would support it. Smits noted “we need to look into this and decide what will we support to get this plan on the road and reach these targets”.

Stuart Taylor asked if there was a green option that would be compliant. Smits noted that he doesn’t discern between green and gold, he prefers to think about access and to that end, yes, publishing an AAM with zero embargo and CC-BY would comply.

Funders stepping up

Echoing other comments that had occurred throughout the conference, Smits noted that funding agencies have left open access negotiations to libraries, but the agencies are the ones that hold the key to the solution. This realisation is what led to the development of Plan S. While the funding agencies couldn’t push OA alone, Smits asked if they would be prepared to work together to move forward on open access.

Smits underlined that the principles are simple – “if you want to use the funds you are required to meet these rules”. He also emphasised that this “is not a menu”. If people sign up “they sign up to everything” to ensure a level playing field. The list of signatories may well increase, he noted, with discussions happening in Finland “and other countries”. He also mentioned charitable foundations and non-European organisations.

A question of timing

In terms of timing Smits gave three clear indicators. The first is to have a detailed implementation plan by the end of the year, including a “robust policy”. This will include information like the level of cap on APCs and other details. Smits noted that the cap exists initially to ensure there isn’t an explosion of costs, “and then let the market decide”. He suggested that the clever high quality journals will offer more value for money within cap. In terms of the cap amount, they are looking at how much it costs to create an article which will inform a “fair price”.

The second indicator about timing related to flipping journals. Smits mentioned that he has extended his invitation to the larger publishers (Elsevier, Wiley and Springer-Nature) to join the discussion about how to flip their journals. It was “not acceptable” for hybrid journals to become the new norm or business model so these arrangements need to be transformative and only for 3-4 years before flipping the journals.

The final timing indicator related to books, which were, according to Smits, a big point for discussions over formulation of the plan. They have agreed not to have a deadline for books as the compromise to funding agencies, noting that full OA monographs won’t be ready for 2020. Implementation plan will include language about how they see this happening, and while there is no specific date, the range of timing for OA books could be between 2022 – 2026.

Academic freedom?

Inevitably the question of academic freedom came up. Smits noted where to publish is about academic choice, not academic freedom. He said academic freedom is about researching what you want to pursue, not publishing where you want. If you take the academic freedom argument, he asked, what about wanting to stop people from publishing in predatory journals? Is that not also preventing academic freedom? Plan S pushes and encourages scholars to publish for access.

He also noted that academic freedom is the wrong argument in the debates we *should* be having. It is a way to stifle debate, and he noted the vested interests in scholarly publishing because it is so lucrative. In practice, currently many publication choices are not free anyway but are tied to impact factor. He said we should try to get rid of the “obsession with JIF”. Hiring on the basis of JIF is a “sad, sad, situation”, he argued, noting we need to adhere to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and find better metrics. This calls for a transformation of culture, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

The conference discussions can be viewed at the Twitter hashtag #COASP10

Published 24 September 2018
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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