Australian campaigners demand open access step change

Advocacy groups demand action from next government

May 14, 2019
Open sign

Australian open access advocates have demanded a post-election purge of overpriced science, giving the next education minister three years to change the research publishing paradigm.

Lobby groups say that in the space of a decade, Australia has stumbled from being a “world leader” in research access – armed with a coast-to-coast system of institutional repositories – to an international laggard.

The two groups say that fair access to research outputs would be “a realistic and significant accomplishment” for a new or reappointed minister, and that recent events provide a platform to “catalyse a discussion on how Australia can match the rest of the world”.

These developments include recent reports by the Productivity Commission advisory body and a House of Representatives standing committee, as well as the global spread of Europe’s Plan S open access initiative.

The two groups, the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG) and Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL), have released a joint statement on the eve of Australia’s 18 May federal election. It says that access to scholarly research is at a “stalemate” because of tensions between the needs of research institutions, which want their research disseminated as widely as possible, and commercial publishers that “primarily serve the needs of their shareholders”.

“There is no overarching strategy to ensure a coherent approach to open scholarship. The various Australian initiatives often overlap. No one body is responsible for coordination; nor is there any dedicated funding for a strategic approach. The opportunity and imperative for action is now,” the statement says.

The statement chides the incumbent Coalition government for having failed to produce a national open access policy two years after accepting a Productivity Commission recommendation that such a policy was needed.

And in a nod to the opposition Labor party’s pledge to review post-school education if it wins the election, the statement says open scholarship should be included in the terms of reference “for any post-election inquiries”.

It says that despite open access requirements imposed by the main research funding agencies and about half of universities, just 32 per cent of journal articles submitted to last year’s Excellence in Research for Australia evaluation were freely available.

The country’s universities pay more than A$280 million (£150 million) a year to give staff access to academic outputs, the statement adds. When health, government and industry bodies are factored in, the national subscription bill is incalculable because “there is no national data source for this”.

The statement says a cross-sectoral body should be formed to develop and implement a national action plan for open scholarship within three years. The task would include mapping the Australian publishing landscape, scoping global best practice, commissioning a cost-benefit analysis and making recommendations on policy, actions and funding.

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