Open Access: Effective Measures To Put UK Research Online Under Threat?

Martin Paul Eve, Stephen Curry and Alma Swan | | July 28, 2014

The universities of the UK should not squander the opportunity to put in place an effective mechanism for making their published research freely available

A great deal of water has passed under the bridge in the two years since the UK government reinvigorated its push towards open access – making publicly funded research papers freely available online. Although there is broad agreement on the policy, vociferous debates have raged over the details of implementation. Should the UK policy favour gold open access – making research papers freely available via the journal where they are published – or green open access, where the paper (usually the author’s final revision following peer review) is placed in a freely accessible university repository?

Much of the debate has revolved around efficacy and costs. It is widely believed that gold open access may be cheaper in the long run – particularly if it encourages transparent market competition – but it may be an expensive policy during any transition away from established subscription models.  The policy implemented by Research Councils UK favours gold open access but leaves the final choice to the authors. While pragmatic, this approach risks ongoing confusion in the minds of academics in what is a complex policy area.

However, moves towards open access received a significant boost earlier this year when the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HECFE) – acting on behalf of equivalent bodies for the rest of the UK – announced that only papers that have been placed in institutional repositories will be considered eligible for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF), a periodic exercise that assesses the quality of the outputs of UK university departments. This is a powerful linkage because REF assessments determine how HEFCE disburses its research funds and universities take them very seriously...