Australia ups the ante on global access to research

Canberra aims to unlock the 'dark archives' of publicly funded research, reports Zoe Corbyn

September 18, 2008

A pioneering move by the Australian Government to allow open access to all of the nation's publicly funded research could "set all the dominoes falling worldwide", it was predicted this week.

Kim Carr, the Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, said he intended to implement reforms aimed at "unlocking public information and content, including the results of publicly funded research", following a review of the country's innovation.

The review says that scientific knowledge produced in Australia should be "placed in machine-searchable repositories" developed and implemented using universities and public funding agencies.

"To the maximum extent practicable, information, research and content funded by the Australian governments ... should be made freely available over the internet as part of the global public commons," it says. "This should be done while the Australian Government encourages other countries to reciprocate by making their own contributions to the global digital public commons."

Giving a speech on the report, Mr Carr said that Australia - which produces 3 per cent of the world's research papers - "is and will remain" a net importer of knowledge. As a result, he said, it was in the country's interest to "promote the freest possible flow of information domestically and globally".

"The arguments for stepping out first on open access are the same as the arguments for stepping out first on emissions trading - the more willing we are to show leadership on this, the more chance we have of persuading other countries to reciprocate," he said.

Open-access advocate Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton, said the development was significant. "Australia looks poised now to be the one that sets all the dominoes falling worldwide," he added.

He said that the UK Government had also received a recommendation, in 2004, from the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology to mandate open access but had rejected it "under pressure from the publishing lobby". Since then a growing number of universities and funders around the world have been introducing open-access policies.

Colin Steele, chair of Australia's National Scholarly Communications Forum, told Times Higher Education that both the previous Government and the current Labor Government had supported the funding of university repositories, but in many instances the process has been slow because of "high- level administrative indifference" within universities and publisher pressure to maintain only "dark archives" of closed-access material.

"Minister Carr's statement, plus the whole government approach on public funding ... and public access should provide the final impetus for change," he said.

The Australian Government is due to respond to the 72 recommendations of the so-called Cutler review, Venturous Australia: Building Strength in Innovation, with a White Paper by the end of the year.

The review also recommends an increase in funding for Australia's university research system to "at least match the proportion of GDP that was allocated to them in the mid-1990s" and calls for more money to meet the full costs of research at universities.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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