Most European universities failing to monitor open access costs

Survey finds that European institutions have open access policies in place – but far fewer have specific targets systems to check their progress

April 4, 2019
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Less than a third of European universities are monitoring how much they spend on open access publishing, a new survey has found.

The costs of article processing charges fees paid to publish in open access journals have come under scrutiny as universities switch away from subscribing to closed publications.

But just 31 per cent of universities surveyed by the European University Association said that they were keeping track of costs. Sixty-one per cent said that they were not, while the rest did not know.

Lidia Borrell-Damián, the association’s director of research and innovation, and co-author of a report on the survey findings, said that the figure was “most depressing”.

Universities are “spending a lot of money” on open access publishing, making it “really important to monitor”, she said.

In the UK, a report from 2017 found that the average APC had risen by 16 per cent in three years, well above inflation. As open access takes off, the amount that a sample of British universities were spending on APCs had increased more than fourfold, it discovered.

The EUA’s latest open access survey, covering up to 2017-18 and released on 4 April, paints a picture of universities whose leadership is well aware of the need for open access and that largely have policies in place – but lack specific targets and monitoring.

Nearly three-quarters had no specific targets or timeline for how much of their research should be published open access, it found. “There’s a lot of resistance [to targets], I understand that, but I think they help,” said Dr Borrell-Damián.

Only 43 per cent of institutions were actually monitoring how many research papers end up in open access journals, the survey found. “Universities are humongous organisations and not all of them have got monitoring systems,” Dr Borrell-Damián said.

“For good or bad, researchers are free to do research and publish where they want,” she continued. “Even a university with the best intentions has trouble monitoring everything.”

The survey, which collected responses from 321 institutions across 36 countries, also warned that while there had been “progress in the transition towards open access”, open access to research data, and research data management, “are still at a much less mature stage”.

Just 13 per cent of universities said that they had a policy in place around open access to research data.

But another 40 per cent said that they were considering developing one, a sizeable increase on last year.

Managing and opening up research data was simply much harder than making scientific papers open access, said Dr Borrell-Damián, but awareness of the challenge was “absolutely” spreading through institutions.

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