Funding model for open access unveiled

The distribution of more than £100 million in research council funding for open access article fees will be directly proportional to how much universities have charged the councils for direct labour costs over the last three years.

November 8, 2012

Research Councils UK announced the long-awaited allocations on Thursday afternoon, after pledging in July to provide universities with block grants to help them pay the article charges required by journals to make papers freely available instantly, under the “gold” open access model.

The transition of UK higher education to a largely gold open access publishing model was recommended by the Finch report earlier this year, and was accepted by the government.

The report estimated that the cost of transitioning to such a model could cost the UK sector an extra £60 million a year, mostly in additional publishing fees.

In September the government made an extra £10 million available to help kick-start the transition, but the research councils were criticised for distributing it on the basis on gross grant income, and capping the number of recipients at 30.

A spokeswoman for RCUK said distributing block grants on the basis of direct labour costs – which includes directly incurred staff and investigators’ costs – was “more intuitive” and would better reflect the “research effort” involved in producing a piece of research. It would also be fairer to humanities and social science, research in which is less expensive but could be just as productive of papers.

RCUK has also announced that it is to back-load funding over the next five years. In 2013-14 it will only provide enough money to cover article charges for 45 per cent of the 26,000 papers produced annually with research council funding. This is expected to rise to 75 per cent by 2017/18, reflecting the expected larger take-up of gold open access by then.

The remaining 25 per cent of papers will be expected to be archived in open access repositories, under the green open access model.

The research councils estimate that their spending on article fees will top £100 million over the five years, but have only set absolute funding levels for the remaining two years of the current spending period. This will amount to £17 million in 2013-14 and £20 million in 2014-15. Subsequent funding levels will be set following an interim review in 2014.

Funding will be restricted to institutions that will be eligible for a block grant of £10, 000 or more in 2017/18 in order to ensure “administrative efficiency” in the funding mechanism. However, RCUK estimates that around 99 per cent of papers produced with research council funding will come from institutions eligible for a block grant.

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