Gold-standard spending

Pattern emerging of how sector is spending RCUK open-access cash. Elizabeth Gibney reports

June 20, 2013

The first signs are emerging of how UK universities are earmarking the £100 million allocated by Research Councils UK to pay for open-access publishing.

Introduced in April, the block grant pays the article fees required by journals to make papers freely available instantly under the “gold” open-access model. The sum comes on top of an initial £10 million outlay awarded to 30 universities in 2012.

At a session of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators annual conference, held in Nottingham on 11 and 12 June, eight delegates indicated that their institutions had decided on the mechanisms to apportion the cash.

All said that the funding, which is allocated in proportion to how much institutions have charged the research councils in direct labour costs over the past three years and given above a £10,000 threshold, was being allotted on a “first come, first served” basis.

One delegate, who preferred not to be identified, said that this decision had been reached after “a lot of time and effort” considering a range of more strategic options. RCUK guidance says that the grant should be allocated “fairly” to researchers at all stages of their careers.

About two-thirds of those whose universities had a gold policy said they were topping up the RCUK cash from their institutional coffers.

Ray Kent, director of research, business and innovation at De Montfort University, said that institutions seemed to be publishing in “green” repositories by default, paying gold article processing charges only when there was no other option or it was the author’s preference.

Although open access was “done and dusted” for the government, this was “not necessarily the case for…universities”, he added, with questions remaining over whether institutions would make funding available beyond RCUK-sponsored researchers and how to pay for publishing collaborative research.

Universities were also finding other ways of adapting to the policy, he said, including academics starting their own journals and publishing in gold journals that did not charge article processing fees.

Meanwhile, a delegate told the session that she had received no response from RCUK about when her institution would have to report on how it had spent the cash and whether it would be possible to roll it forward from year to year.

Fiona Armstrong, deputy director of policy, resources and communications at the Economic and Social Research Council, said that the research councils were developing a specification that would set out reporting requirements in greater detail. Asked whether RCUK, like the Wellcome Trust, might consider sanctions for academics who did not comply, she said that this was not currently on the cards.

“We need to ensure [policy is] sensitive to the needs of different academic…disciplines,” she said, adding that open access was not as established in the arts as some sciences.

The UK’s transition to gold was recommended by the Finch report last year and accepted by the government, although RCUK allows both methods. It plans to carry out “a comprehensive, evidence-based review” of its open-access policy next year.

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