High price of gold: How early career researchers will suffer

February 7, 2013

Early career researchers and other “poor” academics may be disadvantaged under the gold model of open access, evidence submitted to the Lords Science and Technology Committee has suggested.

The Russell Group, the British Academy and several social science learned societies stressed that the author-pays publishing model may disadvantage junior researchers and those without institutional affiliation.

“Early career researchers, often in temporary posts, would be unlikely to be allocated scarce [article processing charge] funds by university administrators, yet they need to publish before they can move on to, let alone up, the career ladder,” says the Economic History Society in evidence published on 25 January.

Doctoral students speaking to Times Higher Education agreed. Researchers in the “post-PhD limbo” who lack affiliation while looking for postdoctorate positions would be particularly affected, said Emma Short, a postdoctoral researcher at Newcastle University.

“If we have to publish to get a job because of the research excellence framework, and then we have to pay to publish, we’re a bit stuck,” she said. “There are lots of aspects of open access that need to be thought through, but I do think that early career researchers have been left by the wayside slightly.”

Even a discounted rate - for example, the £850 that Oxford University Press charges authors in some developing countries to publish open access - would be unaffordable, said Cleo Hanaway, who recently finished her DPhil at the University of Oxford.

Publishers could consider introducing a “first article free” scheme to help early career researchers, she added.

In an independent submission, Paul Kirby of the University of Sussex and Meera Sabaratnam of the University of Cambridge also list retired academics, independent scholars and non-governmental organisation researchers as among the academic “poor” who might suffer in a model where universities pay publishing costs.

Academics in the arts, social sciences and humanities could be particularly affected as a greater proportion of their income comes through institutional funding rather than external grants, which may cover publishing costs, they add.

In its submission to the Lords committee, the Russell Group suggests that an element of additional support for PhD students could be included in open-access funding to ensure they are not adversely affected.

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