Open Access to research: British Academy response

26 Jul 2012

The British Academy has consistently supported the general move to open access whenever feasible, to improve access to and awareness of the results of research. We therefore welcome the detailed exploration of the issues by Dame Janet Finch’s Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings. 

The Academy welcomes the fact that there will be opportunities to draw on Research Council and Funding Council funds to pay article processing charges (APCs), so that articles may be made freely available at the point of publication in open access or hybrid journals (the ‘gold’ model). The Academy will now consider the implications of these developments for its own research posts and award schemes that are funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and by other funding partners.

However, the Academy has a number of concerns about the proposals.

The first general issue is that the resources to pay for APCs are to come from existing research funds. Inadequate provision of funds for APCs will present universities with invidious choices, which could result in a rationing of publication and corresponding damage to the UK research base. (This point was also made forcefully by the Russell Group of universities in its statement of 16 July 2012.) And the Academy is very concerned that an imposition of the ‘gold’ model with limited levels of APCs will endanger those learned societies whose journal subscriptions currently finance not only high-quality publication but also wider scholarly activities.

Secondly: the new UK initiatives are bold, but many of the leading academic journals (in subjects ranging from political science to modern languages) are published in countries, in both North America and Europe, where the open access agenda is less well developed. If stringent conditions imposed by research funding bodies result in prominent international publications being deemed not ‘compliant’ – such that UK-funded researchers are prevented from publishing their results in them – UK scholarship will risk becoming provincialised and our universities will be pushed down international rankings.

As well as these general issues, the Academy has particular concerns relating to the humanities and social sciences. It is clear that the Finch Report, both in its analysis and in its recommendations, relates primarily to the natural and medical sciences. The humanities and many of the social sciences have quite different publishing models. Journal articles tend to be substantially longer and to have longer half-lives. And a dominant medium of research publication in most of these disciplines is the monograph or the collection of essays – for which, as the Finch Report acknowledges, an established and proven open access publishing model does not yet exist. The Academy therefore welcomes the reassurance of Vince Cable (in his 12 July speech at the Royal Society) that ‘it is not [BIS’s] intention to formulate a one-size-fits-all approach’ to open access.

The Academy further welcomes the expressed intent of the UK higher education funding bodies to consult widely before finalising any stipulations for research outputs to be submitted to a REF or similar exercise after 2014. We look forward to contributing to that discussion. For example, we will seek to explore further the merits, which seem to us considerable, of the ‘green’ model of open access for the humanities and social sciences – and in particular the setting of appropriate embargo periods for journals in these disciplines, after which articles may be made freely available online. 

Editor’s notes:

  • For more information or interviews, please contact the Press Office at the British Academy on press@britac.ac.uk or 020 7969 5263.
  • The Finch Report can be accessed here.
  • The formal response from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills can be accessed here.

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