This week it is the turn of the House of Commons to investigate the UK policy on open access. No-one seems to be quite sure if they are co-ordinating things with the House of Lords, which was looking into this issue only last week, but on the plus side at least all these inquiries mean that OA remains a live topic.
I made a submission to the House of Lords committee — outlining what I thought were several key points. Many others did the same. So many in fact that the compiled submissions ran to 320 pages. To spare the wits of our beleaguered MPs I have therefore prepared a much briefer submission for the House of Commons committee, focusing on just one question. It is laid out below.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON BUSINESS, INNOVATION AND SKILLS
Response to the Call for evidence on Open Access
Executive Summary: The committee should ask Mr Willetts, minister for universities and science, what progress has been made in convincing other research-active nations to adopt gold-friendly open access (OA) policies that align with the current UK position. If the minister is unable to convince international opinion, a rethink of UK policy may be needed to lubricate the transition to a workable worldwide system of free access to publicly-funded scholarly publications.
- The submitter: My name is Professor Stephen Curry. I work at Imperial College London, but am writing in a personal capacity. I have been an active research scientist for around 25 years and published over 80 peer-reviewed articles. I have written extensively on open access (OA) from the perspective of a working academic.
- The submission (paragraphs 2-8): Open access to publicly funded research is both a huge opportunity and a contentious problem. The committee will no doubt receive submissions from across the spectrum of opinion on recent policy developments in the UK. To keep thing brief I will confine my remarks to what I think is the most important of the topics identified in the call for evidence — “The level of ‘gold’ open access uptake in the rest of the world versus the UK, and the ability of UK higher education institutions to remain competitive.”
- Following Finch, the UK Government and RCUK have arguably made a bold move in declaring a preference for gold OA. In the long run adoption of gold OA is likely to offer a major improvement in terms of cost and access over the current mixed model, which is based on journal subscriptions and partial open access — mostly from green OA repositories.
- However, this improvement will only be realised when there is a worldwide move in academic publishing to a model that is predominantly or wholly OA. Ultimately, journal subscriptions could be abandoned and the money used instead to pay publishers’ Article Processing Charges (APCs) required under gold OA.
- This transformation — and we should not underestimate how radical or important it will be —is critically dependent on international cooperation, but on this key point there appears to be much confusion. None of the major research-active nations have followed the UK lead. They appear instead to be opting for green OA mandates.
- As a result the UK policy, which is in some ways an exemplary and usefully disruptive gamble, looks increasingly out of step with the rest of the world. To my mind there is an urgent need to coordinate OA policy internationally.
- Mr Willetts, the minister for universities and science, has talked about consulting with his counterparts in other countries. I think the committee should ask for a detailed report on what progress he has made. If the minister is unable to convince international opinion, a rethink of UK policy may be in order.
- Even then, if there is a swing to support for green OA, an international route needs to be mapped out that clearly explains how one gets from green OA, which depends on maintenance of an already expensive subscription model, to a system of worldwide gold OA that offers the benefits of a more transparent and more efficient publishing market, immediate (unembargoed) access to the version of record and CC-BY licences to facilitate text-mining and re-use.