Academics question government’s policy on open access to study results

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 08 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f864
  1. Krishna Chinthapalli
  1. 1BMJ

Academics at a seminar at the Royal Society have raised concerns over the forthcoming open access policy developed by the government and Research Councils UK.

Frederick Friend, honorary director of scholarly communication at University College London, who spoke at the event on 5 February, said “The UK government’s hasty decision to prioritise open access through the payment [by authors] of article processing charges rather than through long established repositories leaves the UK in an isolated position vis-a-vis open access developments in other countries and with an extra bill for the taxpayer in a time of austerity.

“The UK taxpayer has also lost out through the additional payments to the high profit publishers for open access, while libraries are still paying substantial sums for big deal subscriptions. A fraction of the money to be spent on these charges would enable more citeable peer reviewed articles to be made available through repositories.”

Research Councils UK, which spends nearly £4bn (€4.7bn; $6.3bn) a year on research, stipulated that from 1 April 2013 there must be unrestricted online access to publications resulting from work funded by its councils.1 2 Specifically, it stated that the preferred option, known as gold open access, is for journals to make a research article available immediately on their website. In return they could ask for an article processing charge from authors. If this option was not offered, then the journal must allow the author’s final manuscript to be deposited in a repository within a period such as six or 12 months, known as green open access.

Tom McLeish, professor and pro vice chancellor at Durham University and another speaker at the seminar, said that there would be increased costs above and beyond the existing research budget for publication costs. Maja Maricevic, head of higher education at the British Library, agreed. She said that both green and gold open access should be equally acceptable to Research Councils UK and that other new models were being developed in any case.

Mark Thorley, chairman of Research Councils UK’s research outputs network, said that RCUK funded about 26 000 papers a year and that extra funding to research institutions would enable gold open access. A £10m one-off fund was announced last year, with a further £100m over the next five years, to implement open access.3 He acknowledged that the funds may not be enough, in which case green open access was acceptable.

Tony Peatfield, director of corporate affairs at the Medical Research Council, part of Research Councils UK, noted that immediacy of access may be more important in biomedical research than in other fields of study. He said, “One argument in favour of gold is immediate open access. In areas like health, that is very important. If you have immediate open access, people can act upon it, work from it, and build upon it straightaway. If you’ve got even a six month embargo, all that is delayed.

“The second argument is that if you are paying for gold open access then one of the requirements is for a licence which allows anyone to reuse in whatever way they want your data and work.”

The BMJ has a gold open access policy, which offers immediate open access with a Creative Commons ( licence for attributed, non-commercial reuse. It offers a waiver policy for authors unable to pay the article processing charge.4


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f864