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Delivering on open access: What’s next?

stack of journals

22 Feb 2018

The UK has become a world leader in open access, with 37% of UK-authored articles immediately accessible and 54% within 12 months. This is partly attributed to the dedicated funding for gold open access – when articles are published without an embargo period – but criticisms over how these funds are distributed and used by publishers means problems persist.

Image: Wendy/Flickr

The future open access publishing in the UK remains a topical and complex subject within the scientific community, as highlighted by a forum held on Tuesday 20 February attended by representatives from government, publishers and academia.

Following the publication of Finch report in 2012, which helped lay the foundations for a smooth transition into wider access of research, those involved – universities, publishers, learned societies, and others – have been adapting to the recommendations of the paper, including flexible policies to accommodate the financial implications of open access.

A new direction

With the impending introduction of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), Sir Mark Walport attended the forum – The next steps for delivering open access - implementation, expansion and international trends – to update delegates on how the organisation plans to tackle the concerns around open access.

During his talk, Sir Mark reiterated UKRI’s commitment to openness for the benefit of society, saying that a researcher’s work was not complete until it was published and shared with the world. With this, publication costs are therefore intrinsic, although how this expense can be made to be the best value for money needs more work, he admits.

Sir Mark said that despite a target for a five-year transition period to gold open access and overall compliance, this ambition has not been met. The UK must look internationally, for example the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, for inspiration when creating the policies for the future, he said.

He announced the UKRI’s intention for an internal review, including stakeholder consultation, to help streamline the next steps in the transition.

Our role

SCI, alongside other learned societies, was vocal upon the publication of the aforementioned Finch report, writing a letter to then Science Minister David Willetts outlining our recommendations and concerns for the transition period to full open access.

The contribution of open access to science and innovation is unprecedented but abrupt changes to the system may disproportionally affect learned societies, particularly those focused on STEM – some of which produce journals that are considered leading in their fields.

In December 2017, Universities UK produced a report – Monitoring the transition to open access – that addressed the very issues learned societies and their associated publications now face, particularly the financial implications. While societies’ publishing revenues grew by 18% between 2011 and 2015, expenditures also increased by 27%, therefore reducing net income. Many societies rely on this income to support their other activities, the report says.

The steps taken so far towards open access are promising, but policymakers must consider how changes may affect smaller stakeholders and make the transition to open research sustainable for all.

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