Funding councils begin open-access consultation

They say ‘lessons have been learned’ after Research Councils UK is condemned for lack of dialogue

February 28, 2013

The funding councils’ consultative approach to forming their open- access policy indicates that they have learned from the mistakes of Research Councils UK, university figures have said.

The four UK funding councils launched a preliminary consultation on open access earlier this week, just days after RCUK was criticised by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee for failing to consult widely before publishing its open-access policy last summer.

The results of the preliminary consultation - which runs until 25 March - will feed into a full consultation in late spring.

The funding councils propose that any submission to research excellence frameworks beyond 2014 should be open access “where this is reasonably achievable”. Unlike RCUK, however, they do not express a preference for journal-provided gold open access over repository-provided green open access.

Tom McLeish, Durham University’s pro vice-chancellor for research, said this “open support” for green, in addition to the “very costly” gold route, would “create discussion around more forward-looking and economical avenues to disseminate UK research results, especially in a transitional era”.

The funding councils also decline to take a view on appropriate lengths for green embargo periods or on whether Creative Commons CC-BY licences are necessary to permit readers to search for and reuse content. They expect “sufficient clarity and reassurance” on these issues to be achieved through RCUK’s “ongoing discussions”.

RCUK’s stated policy requires CC-BY licences and maximum embargo lengths of six months for science and 12 months for other disciplines. However, it recently announced that during a five-year transition period it would accept embargoes twice as long as this. This “lack of clarity” was condemned as “unacceptable” by the Lords select committee; in response, RCUK acknowledged that “communication and engagement around the policy, including its development, has been challenging” and that “lessons have been learned”.

Peter Mandler, president of the Royal Historical Society, said the funding councils had also “learned from RCUK’s difficult experiences over the past few months”.

He welcomed the prospect of a “more open-ended consultation”, saying that “sharp disagreement” over the virtues and legal meanings of different licences remained.

He also hoped that the consultation would present an opportunity to “assert differences” between science and non-science subjects.

The consultation document promises that policy on exemptions to the open- access rule will be “sympathetic to particular disciplinary issues”. But it rejects calls for entire non-science disciplines to be exempt since “research in all subjects has equal importance and therefore equally merits receiving the benefits of open-access publication”.

David Price, vice-provost for research at University College London, agreed with “much of the spirit of what [the funding councils] seek”. But he was concerned that their intention to forbid researchers from retrospectively making open access only those papers they submit to the research excellence framework would cause problems in areas of the humanities and social sciences where there was currently no viable open- access option.

He also worried that uncertainty over the exemptions policy “risks causing the type of confusion criticised by the Lords”. He said the final policy on open access needed to be “consistent, rational, realistic and - crucially - not discriminate against excellent research outputs”.

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