Research England: there is no one-size-fits-all model for OA monographs

Developing an open-access policy for long-form scholarly works that allows for flexibility and a wide range of exceptions will be a slow and steady process, says Helen Snaith

July 27, 2018
Source: istock

In December 2016, the four UK higher education funding bodies signalled their intent to extend the open-access requirements of the research excellence framework to include long-form scholarly works and monographs in the exercise after REF 2021.

At the University Press Redux conference in February 2018 – an event that brought together experts on university press publishing – these plans triggered a lively debate. This led to Research England’s director of research, Steven Hill, confirming that further discussions and a consultation with the sector would be needed to develop policy details and finalise conditions.

Martin Eve of Birkbeck, University of London, recently wrote that the four funding bodies were not moving quickly enough, and that clarity was needed urgently to understand how a policy for OA monographs would be implemented.

Are we ‘running out of time’?

Eve’s article suggests that Research England and the three other UK higher education funding bodies – the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Northern Ireland Executive – are “running out of time” to implement a policy for OA monographs.

The 2015 Crossick report makes it clear that policy development in this area should take appropriate time for engagement and consultation with the sector. What is important is that we get the process and the policy right, recognising where there might be challenges while clearly communicating the benefits of OA to colleagues across the sector. A phased approach is an option. This would allow the sector time to implement appropriate processes and to reflect on and share good practice.

Eve suggests four options that the UK HE funding bodies could adopt in a move to OA monographs. One is to withdraw the intention to mandate OA for academic books. The four funding bodies are firmly committed to delivering an OA policy for monographs in the REF after next. We believe that sharing new knowledge has enormous benefits for researchers, the wider higher education sector and the public.

The idea of a dedicated fund – which Eve has previously suggested could be top-sliced from quality-related funding – is not a sustainable long-term solution. There is no incentive for efficiency gains if we take this route, and it does not encourage a fair ecology across different publishing models. Evidence from a 2017 Universities UK report shows that the average article processing charge (APC) for journals increased 16 per cent within a three-year period, suggesting that there may be a correlation between direct funding for OA and increased charges.

Another option would be to “demand compliance” from universities. We do not want to produce a policy that, to borrow the phrase used by Eve, “loses friends and alienates people”. Instead, we should allow universities and scholars to explore a full range of business models. The world of OA books is diverse and innovative, often fostering collaborations between universities, publishers and service providers. There is no one-size-fits-all model.

Finally, Eve also suggests that we could explore a green route for monographs. Certainly, we should not restrict ourselves to just thinking about the gold OA route. Any policy in this area will be open to a range of models – a green OA model is particularly interesting for books because of the market for print versions alongside digital copies. Goldsmiths Press, for example, favours the green route. As the UK’s first green OA monograph publisher, Goldsmiths combines OA with a “fair and varied pricing model for print books”.

Eve raises some pertinent points, particularly around issues of funding and the need to deliver a sector-wide consultation. We are continuing to explore these issues as we consider what a future policy might look like.

Next steps

Steps are being taken to further understand the specific challenges posed by stakeholder groups. Working with colleagues at Jisc, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Research England has recently appointed Fullstopp GmbH to collect and analyse data that will seek to answer a set of challenges and questions posed by sector representatives. The UUK OA monograph working group has also recently published a report that provides an overview of the current open-access landscape. It draws attention to significant activities in this area, highlighting OA initiatives from around the world.

We want excellent research of all kinds to be submitted to the REF. We will not, as the Royal Historical Society has suggested, “militate adversely” against academic freedom to choose where a researcher’s work is published. This is not true for journal articles, and it will not be true for academic books. As Hill pointed out in February, we would expect any policy requirement to include “a wide range of possible exceptions”. We are committed to ensuring flexible arrangements for exceptions to the policy where books cannot reasonably meet OA requirements.

We recognise that monographs have a particular significance to scholars in the arts, the humanities and the social sciences: they are complex, longitudinal pieces of work that represent years of research. Any policy should consider the lengthy processes that are involved in the research, writing and the publication of long-form outputs.

Helen Snaith is a senior policy adviser at Research England.

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Reader's comments (1)

My main quibble is that I do believe that time is running out - in the sense that academics are making decisions now which will lead to anomalies in 2021 onwards. Without a soft or tapered landing to the REF after next there will be books left ineligible. Academics frequently make contractual book deals years in advance of publication. If they choose a publisher now in 2018-19 on current advice and for whatever reason the book comes out in 2021 or later then there is risk of it not being eligible or of high BPCs to make it so. There is a habit with the REF of telling us the rules halfway or 3/4s of the way through each cycle but for books this would be very problematic indeed.

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