Do you think UKRI’s’ open access policy for journal articles has made a significant impact on the scholarly publishing landscape in the past year? How has the policy changed things and impacted the shift to open access?
From our point of view we have seen that the UKRI policy and the associated Open Access Block Grants funding has been one of the more significant driving factors in shifting the academic publishing landscape in the UK towards open access as the standard approach for many academics when publishing their research outputs. To illustrate this, in 2022 there were 32,478 articles published by lead authors from the UK with a Creative Commons licence which represents around 45.7% of the total UK output. In 2021 this figure was 34.1% and slightly lower at 25.2% in 2020 (OA figures provided by the Hybrid Open Access Dashboard: https://subugoe.github.io/hoaddash).
This significant rise in openly licenced material is a direct consequence of publishers offering the UK academic sector Transitional Agreements (TAs), sometimes known as ‘Read & Publish’ deals. Transitional agreements are contracts between a university and publisher which gradually shift the basis of payments from subscription-based reading to open access publishing services in a controlled manner. (https://www.jisc.ac.uk/full-guide/working-with-transitional-agreements). Research intensive universities have struggled to meet the additional costs of open access on top of journal subscription expenditure and the UKRI Open Access Block Grants have enabled this transition to start to take place. Without this critical investment by UKRI in the publishing landscape this transformation would not be possible.
Do you think UKRI’s open access policy is sufficient? Should UKRI do anything else to facilitate the shift to open access?
To date the focus of the UKRI policy has been on the final published journal article, with a sidenote that encourages authors to use preprints – particularly researchers funded by the MRC and BBSRC who have separate policies for preprints. During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw great use of preprints to rapidly disseminate research findings. One University of Edinburgh preprint reporting on the Omicron variant of concern was downloaded 21, 005 times in 10 days (See this blog post for a case study: https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/openscholarship/2022/01/07/the-power-of-preprints-an-omicron-case-study/).
Other subject disciplines that have longer publication times would benefit greatly from rapid communication and we would like to see UKRI investing more in open infrastructure which will help enable this. Research England has invested significantly to support initiatives like Octopus – a new platform for the scientific community – but this focus on lab-based disciplines risks leaving innovation in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences trailing behind the traditional science subjects.
Another open question that UKRI could help answer is how can the value of preprints be more widely recognised and rewarded? This issue is closely related to the strong incentives for researchers to publish in glamour journals and the obsession with Journal Impact Factors. UKRI is already doing some great work to reform research assessment – for example by promoting narrative CVs – and we would like to see this continue in more subject disciplines.
What else needs to be done by others (not UKRI) for a full shift to open access?
The purview of UKRI is limited by national boundaries, which is why the Plan S initiative is extremely important. Co-ordination between national research funders is required to ensure that progress towards open access is a controlled and managed so that it works for everyone involved in the process – authors, publishers, institutions and research funders. The core of the access problem is that academia has outsourced the publishing component to commercial companies who are extracting maximum revenue – as is their wont and right to do so. Libraries don’t currently have comprehensive answers, but we are engaging with publishers to let them know how they can help the academic community. Our favoured approach is to support smaller society publishers to adopt the “Subscribe to Open” (S2O) model which a pragmatic approach for converting subscription journals to open access. Using S2O, a publisher offers a journal’s current subscribers continued access. If all current subscribers participate in the S2O offer – simply by not opting out – the publisher opens the content covered by that year’s subscription. There is little risk to the publisher and there are no barriers or fees for authors to publish.
Have you or researchers at Edinburgh encountered any problems linked to UKRI’s open access policy for journal articles?
The shift to requiring immediate open access upon publication with a CC BY licence is hugely welcome, however it does create significant complexities for researchers who are trying to navigate their way through the various complex options offered by journal publishers. Some examples of current live issues that we routinely help authors with are:
- Authors publishing in non-standard journal that do not offer any compliant open access routes,
- Journals that incur extra page or colour charges that cannot be funded by block grants,
- Collaborating co-authors who are based at institutions without TAs meaning articles are not eligible in Read & Publish deals,
- Publishers not accepting Rights Retention Statements in submitted manuscripts.
The changes in the publishing landscape have provided libraries with new opportunities to support and engage with the academic community. The skills and knowledge of librarians are well suited to help manage this change.