Australia and New Zealand face bumpy road to open access research

‘Read and publish’ deals must not be the only game in town, critic warns

December 5, 2022
Person hitching a camel  ride to the surf at Bondi Beach to illustrate New Zealand and Australia face bumpy road to  open up research
Source: Getty

Australasia faces tensions in its efforts to make research freely available, notwithstanding progress among funders, universities and publishers.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has mandated immediate open access to articles arising from its grants, after previously allowing new publications to remain behind paywalls for 12 months. The new policy, announced in September, applies from 2024 for researchers with current NHMRC grants and immediately for recipients of new grants.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has also mandated open access from 2023, although its policy permits publisher embargoes of up to a year.

Meanwhile, the Council of Australian University Librarians (Caul) was tying up “read and publish” deals, which wrap OA publishing charges into institutions’ existing subscriptions, with all the major scholarly publishing houses.

An agreement with Sage Publishing was expected to be announced imminently, after deals were struck with Taylor & Francis in October and Elsevier in November.

Taylor & Francis says its agreement is compatible with the NHMRC policy. However, the agreement covers limited numbers of articles until 2025, so researchers accepted for publication by T&F journals in 2024 could find themselves in breach of the policy once the open access article cap has been reached.

If so, they will need to pay processing charges to have their work made openly available or deposit “author accepted” manuscripts – peer-reviewed versions of the papers prior to typesetting – in freely available research repositories. But Taylor & Francis, like other major publishers, has a 12-month embargo on freely available repository uploads.

Virginia Barbour, director of Open Access Australasia, said publishers could not stop their authors uploading papers to repositories. But she acknowledged that publishers might stop accepting papers from researchers considered likely to do so. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen if disputes arise,” Professor Barbour said.

“One of the problems with these deals is that they’re all different and quite complex. We need to make it as simple as possible for researchers to navigate their way through. There’s been a lot of confusing language about how researchers can comply with the various policies.”

Professor Barbour said that while read-and-publish deals were “quite useful” for universities, many did not constitute “transformative agreements”, which – according to cOAlition S, the international consortium agitating to make publicly funded research freely accessible at the point of publication – include public commitments to transition to full open access.

“Some of these deals will be transformative, but quite a few are not,” she said. “We need a diverse system [that supports] repositories, local publishers and fully open access journals with no fees. These don’t fit into this model at all. There is no funding for them. The worry is that if we only focus on read and publish, we will knock out other types of OA.”

Bob Gerrity, chair of Caul’s content procurement committee, said the agreements were aligned with cOAlition S efforts. He said Caul’s main grievance was the cost of subscriptions, which had not changed from the era of print-based journals.

“If we go from a subscription environment to [one] where we’re paying largely based on publishing volumes for each university, it will likely change how much each member pays. We want to see the costs decrease [and become] transparent and equitable [so that] members understand what drives how much they pay,” he said.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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