Open access mandate narrowed in formal proposals

The UK funding councils have narrowed the scope of their proposed open access mandate for the post-2014 research excellence framework.

Initial proposals published in February envisaged requiring a certain proportion of submitted monographs to be open access. However, among the 260 respondents to an informal consultation on the plans there was “widespread concern about the extent to which open access is reasonably achievable” for monographs.

For that reason, monographs will now be exempt from the mandate. However, the funding councils’ formal proposals, published for consultation on July 24, make clear the exemption will only be temporary “in view of our expectation that open access publication for monographs and books is likely to be achievable in the long term”.

The “overwhelming majority” of respondents to the informal consultation agreed that it is not currently feasible to require data sets to be open access. Hence, the first open access REF mandate will apply only to journal articles and conference proceedings whose authors include UK-based academics.

The funding councils have also reduced the compliance rate universities would be required to achieve from the 80 per cent suggested in February to 70 per cent. This would be the average for all disciplines, with a higher figure (75 per cent) required for the sciences and lower figures for the social sciences (70 per cent) and humanities (60 per cent).

A suggested alternative to such targets would be to permit universities to argue for exceptions to the open access requirement on a case-by-case basis, such as when the UK author is only one of a “large number” of foreign-based authors not subject to an open access mandate.

“We consider that this approach may introduce a lesser burden on HEIs than a percentage-based approach; however, it would include an element of risk in the submission, and is likely to demand a higher level of compliance,” the consultation paper notes.

Institutions will still be prevented from submitting outputs made open access only retrospectively since “the primary objective of this proposal is to stimulate immediate open-access publication”. But exceptions will be made when the outputs were written by authors who, at the time of publication, was working abroad or outside the sector.

The embargo periods before outputs are made open access should be aligned with those required by the research councils: currently twelve months for the sciences and 24 months for other disciplines, dropping to half that length following a five-year transition period.

The funding councils say their aim is to adopt as flexible a policy as possible in order to allow its details to change as open access evolves. For this reason, they avoid following Research Councils UK in expressing a preference for gold over green open access or in requiring outputs to be published using a Creative Commons CC-BY licence – though outputs must be available for text mining.

The mandate will become active for outputs published two years after the policy is finalised, likely to be in early 2014.

Responses to the consultation must be sent by 30 October.

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