The UK House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Report on Open Access

SPARC Europe warmly welcomes the Report from the BIS Committee and its recommendations on Open Access (OA) policy in the United Kingdom. We are especially pleased by the way the Committee has taken evidence into account and weighed it in the interests of the research community. The Finch Report was deficient both in this respect and in other information on which it based its decisions and recommendations, but this is now rectified in the BIS Committee report.

With that reassurance, we expect the research community now broadly to support the recommendations contained in this new report.

In particular, SPARC Europe applauds the following:

  • The report recognises that Green OA and the infrastructure supporting it are neither insignificant nor ineffectual. Green OA represents the bulk of Open Access material in the UK and the UK’s repository infrastructure is world-class. It is helping to deliver world-beating levels of OA and has the potential to support innovative, effective and cheaper means of disseminating and preserving the scholarly research output from the nation’s universities in the future. It thus represents both a transitional mechanism towards Gold OA and the opportunity for new ways of working and we are pleased that the BIS Committee recognises and reinstates its importance.
  • The BIS Committee report emphasises that authors should have freedom of choice with respect to opting for Green or Gold Open Access. We concur. Authors may not always be able to find an Open Access journal (‘pure’ Gold OA) that satisfies their needs and certainly should not be harried into opting for hybrid Gold OA, especially when this may require their institution to carry the cost because RCUK has not provided enough funding. Besides, as the report makes clear, hybrid OA has a number of associated problems, not least of which are double-dipping by publishers and the maintenance of the dysfunctional market. In all, paying for hybrid OA should be a decision left to the author, with the proviso that it is the author’s grant money that is used for this – or not.  SPARC Europe strongly supports Gold Open Access publishing when there is author choice, where authors use their grant money to pay for APCs, and where grant money may be used only to pay for ’pure’ Gold publishing and not for hybrid Gold. With these conditions in place we can expect to see Open Access publishing gathering pace, a better market and a cheaper research communication system.
  • The report begins to address the dysfunctional state of the scholarly publishing marketplace and draws proper attention to the problem of the isolation of researchers – who are the consumers and, importantly, the purchasers of publishing services – from purchase decisions. As we have consistently argued, the way to create a working, functional market is to place authors in the position of making the decisions about what services to purchase.
  • Embargoes on Green OA were addressed by the Finch Report (which erroneously treated Green OA as always-embargoed Open Access) and, subsequently, erratically by RCUK. The latter has several times changed its position on permitted embargoes and there is confusion around the endorsement of the Publishers Association’s ‘decision tree’. The BIS Committee report recommends that RCUK dissociate its policy from this decision tree. This would be a major step towards clarification for authors and institutions.
  • The BIS Committee report also offers RCUK clear guidance as to how it should now proceed with enforcing and monitoring compliance. Fuzzy policy around permitted embargo periods always carries the danger that it may lead publishers opportunistically to lengthen their embargoes and the report accepts that this has come to pass: we have seen lengthened embargoes by (at least) Emerald and Springer as a result of weakness in this policy area. The BIS Committee report recommends that embargoes in the UK be tightened to 6 months maximum for STEM disciplines and up to 12 months for HASS. It also recommends that the mandate be on the immediate deposit of work, so that the metadata of each item are openly available from that moment, even if the full-text is embargoed for a period. This is an excellent recommendation as it streamlines and improves both process and outcome. It also has a bearing on the next point here.
  • Policy alignment. The BIS Committee report refers specifically to HEFCE’s excellent proposed policy on OA for the post-2014 REFs and recommends that RCUK should reinstate its original policy conditions and impose an immediate deposit mandate to match HEFCE’s proposal. It also recommends that the original RCUK permitted embargo periods of 6 months for STEM disciplines and 12 months for HASS disciplines be reinstated. We agree completely. The current RCUK permitted embargoes of 12 and 24 months respectively in these disciplinary areas are double what they should be and are out of line with all other OA policies around the world. This issue goes to the heart of effective policymaking on Open Access, where real implementational success will be achieved by harmonisation of policies in as many ways as possible. SPARC Europe is working to encourage such harmonisation across the European Union (and, with our partner organisations, further afield) because it is critical to compliance. Harmonisation is even more important within one nation, and in the United Kingdom the RCUK and HEFCE policies will be so much more successful if they match and reinforce one another than if they have separate, differing requirements of authors.

In all, the BIS Committee report offers the Government and RCUK excellent guidance on re-tuning policy for maximal effect. The UK established world-leading policy on OA in 2005 and continues to show by example that freeing up publicly-funded knowledge does not happen by itself but takes persistence, determination and policy support. And the detail of that policy support matters. With some re-orienting and tweaking, and some attention to monitoring and enforcing compliance, the RCUK policy can re-join – and perhaps, again, lead – the global effort to create a soundly-based, harmonised policy environment for achieving Open Access to research findings. We hope that the Minister for Universities and RCUK will now seize the opportunity to build upon and improve the UK’s Open Access policy using the BIS Committee’s excellent recommendations as guidance.  SPARC Europe will endorse and support this every step of the way.

You can download the response here: SPARC Europe response to the BIS report Sept 2013

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