An online search engine that provides free access to more than half a million academic research papers worldwide is also giving universities a better idea of their total published research activity.
The project, Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation and Access, enables academics to search every university archive in the world from a single website, offering direct access to research available in free "open-access" archives published on institutional websites.
Bill Hubbard, Sherpa's manager, said: "It only looks at academic archives of research papers, so usable search results are not lost in the thousands you typically get using conventional search engines." The project would not compete with the 600 or so open-access journals, he added. It works with them by encouraging free access to research.
Last week, Sherpa's founding partners were joined by the London Leap Consortium of University College London, Imperial College London, Birkbeck College, London and King's College, London, Royal Holloway, University of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, taking its membership to 20, a substantial proportion of British research-led universities.
The founding members are the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield and York, the Arts and Humanities Data Service and the British Library.
Stephen Pinfield, project director, said the institutions' archives "allow authors to disseminate their material worldwide overnight and allow researchers elsewhere free access to that material from their desktop, from a single source".
"This level of accessibility raises the profile of the author and the institution and will be of direct benefit in spreading UK higher education research around the world," Mr Pinfield said.
He added that universities were realising that the archives could be used to demonstrate their research productivity and to better manage intellectual property.
Edinburgh University calculated that it produced more than ten peer-reviewed research papers every working day. While these will still be published in journals, it is working with Sherpa to develop an institutional archive.
Mr Hubbard said: "This is a very productive aspect of UK higher education that is often difficult to see. When papers are published in highly specialised journals, it is difficult to get an overall picture of all of the activity going on. Institutional archives allow the overall picture to be seen."
The project will also offer advice on promoting institutional repositories and guidelines on intellectual property and copyright.
Sherpa is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee and the Consortium of University Research Libraries.