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.

July 24, 2013

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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Reader's comments (2)

HEFCE OPEN ACCESS MANDATE NOT NARROWER: MORE FOCUSED 1. MODEL. The HEFCE proposal to mandate immediate (not retrospective) deposit of journal articles in the author's institutional repository in order to make them eligible for evaluation in the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) is wise and timely, and. if adopted, will serve as a model for the rest of the world. It will also complement the Green (self-archiving) component of the RCUK Open Access (OA) mandate, providing it with an all-important mechanism for monitoring and ensuring compliance. 2. MONOGRAPHS. Exempting monographs for now was a good decision. The HEFCE mandate, like the RCUK mandate, applies only to peer-reviewed journal articles. These are all author giveaways, written solely for research impact, not royalty income. This is not true of all monographs. (But a simple compromise is possible: recommend -- but don't require -- monograph deposit too, but with access set as Closed Access rather than Open Access, with no limit on the length of the OA embargo. Author choice.) 3. DATA. Ditto for open data: It's good judgment not to force it on researchers. Researchers must be allowed a fair period of first-expoitation rights on the data they have gathered. If it's immediately open to all, why bother to gather data data all? Just analyze the data of others immediately after they take the time and trouble to gather it. (But here too, a simple compromise would be to recommend -- but not require -- Closed Access deposit. Eventually, fair embargo length limits can be decided, on a discipline by discipline and project by project basis.) 4. EXCEPTIONS. The required compliance rate has not been reduced from 100% to 60-75% (and should not be). HEFCE is merely asking in the consultation, whether the research community prefers a reduced target percentage or case-by-case consideration of exceptions. The latter is a far better way of making the policy realistic and successful. Most of the notional reasons for non-compliance (e.g., publisher embargoes) are based on misunderstandings anyway. (Articles can be deposited immediately, even if there is a publisher OA embargo: the deposit can be Closed Access instead of OA during the embargo.) Percentage-targets would simply ensure that compliance rates were no higher than the allowable percentages. 5. EMBARGOES. The HEFCE mandate moots OA embargoes because it requires immediate deposit, whether or not access is immediately OA. This is the core reason the HEFCE mandate is so very important and provides an optimal mandate model for the rest of the world: Publisher OA embargoes no longer determine whether and when an article is deposited. And the institutional repositories have an eprint request Button with which individual users wordlwide can request a single copy of a Closed Access article for research purposes with one click; and the author can choose to comply or not comply with one click. This tides over research needs during any allowable OA embargo with "Almost-OA." 6. LICENCES. Once the allowable embargo (if any) elapses, any OA deposit can be accessed, read, searched, linked, downloaded, stored, printed off and locally data-mined by any user webwide. It will also be harvested and indexed for Boolean full text search by engines like Google. No further license is needed for any of this. Further re-use rights will come once effective Green OA mandates on the combined HEFCE/RCUK model are globally globally by funders and institutions worldwide. Universal Green OA will also hasten the inevitable natural demise of all remaining OA embargoes. 7. START-DATE. The HEFCE consultation also inquires about when the mandate should start, and contemplates a grace period of two years, from 2014-2016. But there is really no reason why an immediate-deposit mandate should not start immediately after REF 2014 for authors at UK institutions, for any article accepted after that date: Everyone begins preparing for the new REF the day after the old REF anyway. 8. DATE-STAMP: Only one of the consultation quiestions is critical for the success of the HEFCE mandate model, and that is whether the requirement that the deposit be "immediate" refers to the date of publication or the date of acceptance for publication. It is crucially important that the date should be acceptance, not publication. Acceptance date is marked by a determinate date-stamped acceptance letter and is a natural point for deposit in the author's workflow. Authors usually don't even know when their accepted article will appear, or has appeared; the lag may be months or even years from acceptance. Nor is the date on the journal issue a marker, because issues often appear long after their calendar dates. Publication lags can be even longer than OA embargoes! Meanwhile, precious access and impact are being lost. The HEFCE immediate-deposit mandate will only succeed if it is pegged to the determinate acceptance date rather than the indeterminate publication date. For details, see: 
I would make a number of general point's about HEFCE's proposal: First, while I'm prepared to accept the desirability of open access in principle with all other things being equal, I have yet to be convinced that significant numbers of people who need or desire access to research outputs in the form in which they are currently published are actually denied such access. In turn, it is unclear that it is worth changing the whole nature of academic publishing in order to produce what could be a marginal gain. Secondly, while the proposals are sensible and flexible on the whole if open access is an inevitability (particularly as regards green vs. gold access), we need to be very clear about the extent to which journal publishers will accept them. While it could be argued that journal publishers make excessive profits from research that is nominally publicly-funded, in my view peer-reviewed journals remain essential to academia as a quality control mechanism. My sense, however, is that some journals are barely aware of open access as a concept. To use an example from my own experience, one journal asked me to remove a pre-refereed version of a paper from SSRN on publication in the journal, presumably in part because the journal itself has a pay-per-download SSRN repository. If the price of journals accepting open access is an increased reliance on APCs (meaning that the green model is not feasible), this could have disastrous consequences for academic freedom and career development. The impact would be felt particularly by doctoral and early-career researchers, less wealthy institutions (subject to any savings in journal subscriptions, the extent of which the February letter admits is "still unknown"), those whose research is considered less attractive and/or valuable by their institutions, and those in the arts and humanities where grant-funded research is still not the norm. Thirdly, (and related to the last point) the proposals do not comprehensively provide for publications in overseas journals by UK-based academics. Open access requirements may be even more alien to such journals. Fourthly, exceptions to open access, while clearly necessary and desirable, could skew choices about publication and jeopardise REF performance. Fifthly, definitions need to be much clearer. Under the proposals, "conference proceedings" would apparently be subject to open access requirements, but "edited books" would be exempt. The problem is that a lot of edited collections have their origins in conference proceedings! Sixthly, the REF is already extremely bureaucratic and a potential fetter on academic freedom. Adding open access to the mix can only make things worse in this respect.

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