Humanities scholars warn over UKRI’s plan for open-access books

Proposals to mandate open access monographs from 2024 will make it harder to publish and will limit career chances, says professor

February 17, 2020
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Proposals that would require academic monographs to be made freely available within 12 months of publication could harm the careers of UK arts and humanities scholars by stopping them from publishing, critics have warned.

Under proposals published on 13 February, UK Research and Innovation will require all scholarly monographs, book chapters and edited collections by authors who are supported by its funds to be made open access from January 2024, unless a contract has been signed before this date that prevents adherence to the policy.

The proposed change is most likely to affect those working in the arts and humanities, where the longer-form publishing format is more common; in the 2014 research excellence framework (REF), books and book chapters accounted for 53 per cent of submissions in history and two-thirds in Classics, according to a British Academy position paper published in May 2018.

Without extra research funds to pay for the book processing charges associated with open access publishing, many scholars might be denied the opportunity to publish, warned Marilyn Deegan, professor of digital humanities at King’s College London. “In arts and humanities, without monographs you are unlikely to progress in your career,” said Professor Deegan, who added that she had recently been told by a publisher that it would cost almost £10,000 to publish an academic book in an open access format.

“Around 8,000 monographs were submitted to the last REF; if you assume an average of £7,000 to publish these open access, that comes to over £50 million,” she said.

Asking scholars to find extra money to publish was also likely to add to workloads, Professor Deegan said. “There is so much pressure on academics in so many areas these days that [this] might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

An open access requirement might also influence the kinds of books that get published, she added. “I worry about niche subjects that are important but not necessarily popular. I can’t see my original subject area of Anglo-Saxon medical texts doing too well at crowdfunding,” Professor Deegan said.

The UKRI consultation, which closes on 17 April, appears to leave room for “potential exceptions, including where significant reuse of third-party materials is required”. The £7 billion-a-year research body is still considering “definitions of in-scope monographs, edited collections and book chapters”, such as whether monographs resulting from the PhDs it funds should be included.

Trade books, scholarly editions, exhibition catalogues, textbooks and all types of fictional works would be exempt – although academics will seek clarity on whether “crossover” books based on original research that sell in high street bookshops, which are often submitted to the REF, would be affected.

The consultation also says that UKRI is still considering how best to support the funding of open access monographs.

Sir Duncan Wingham, UKRI’s executive champion for open access, defended the plans even as he acknowledged that there were “particular problems” about the inclusion of monographs into open access rules because the “open access [monograph] publishing market is nowhere near the same level of maturity as the research journal publication market”.

However, Martin Paul Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, said he was “definitely in favour” of the open access switch. “Without a signal that it is coming, we will see no progress,” he said, adding that the proposals were “sensible and moderate while also committing to an implementation.”

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Reader's comments (1)

When there is sophisticated research easily available on the issue of OA for monographs, on the effect of OA on sales, on the relationship between OA and 'niche' subjects, why does the THE choose instead to report hearsay, unsourced anecdote, made-up numbers, and uninformed opinion from one person? Do you really have no writers capable of producing a researched, sourced, fact-checked, adequate report on this important issue?