Finch group v-c sees bright side to report's warnings on gold access costs

A university vice-chancellor who is a member of the Finch group said he is untroubled by a new study that finds that a unilateral move to "green" open access would be much cheaper for UK universities than a unilateral shift to "gold" open access.

July 5, 2012

The study, Going for Gold? The Costs and Benefits of Gold Open Access for UK Research Institutions: Further Economic Modelling, published on 5 July, compares the costs to institutions of adopting the open-access models "unilaterally" with the savings generated if such systems were adopted everywhere.

Commissioned by the UK Open Access Implementation Group, the report finds that the greatest savings to universities would be yielded by a global move to gold open access, under which authors pay article fees, with the largest research intensives saving upwards of £3 million a year.

A global move to green open access - which requires researchers to archive their papers in open-access repositories - would save research intensives only just over £1 million a year, assuming that no journal subscriptions were cancelled.

However, a unilateral move to gold open access would cost large research intensives about £1.7 million a year.

By contrast, a unilateral move to green open access would cost even research intensives only around £100,000 a year.

The government-convened Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by former Keele University vice-chancellor Dame Janet Finch, recommended last month that the UK should move unilaterally to gold open access.

It estimated that the transition could cost UK higher education an additional £60 million a year, including nearly £40 million in article fees.

The estimates in both the Finch and Going for Gold reports are based on average article fees (which the latter puts at £571).

But last week, Ian Walmsley, pro vice-chancellor for research at the University of Oxford, warned that under the Finch proposals his institution's annual spending on publications could rise by as much as 350 per cent, since the high- prestige journals in which its academics typically publish would be likely to charge high article fees.

Despite such expressions of concern, Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford and a member of both the Finch group and the UK Open Access Implementation Group, said he expected that even top-end article fees would be driven down once a fully open-access approach was adopted.

"If a prestige journal charged outrageous amounts and leading Nobel prizewinners were suitably outraged, they wouldn't publish there and the journal would lose its reputation," he said.

He admitted that research intensives' disproportionate share of the transition costs was a concern, and said he respected the views of those who believe the Finch group should have recommended a more central role for green open access.

But he did not believe that the Going for Gold report lent greater weight to such arguments.

Professor Hall said that the importance of having access to the "version of record" of papers and the ability to carry out text and data mining still "tipped the balance" in favour of gold open access.

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