Overseas academics ‘will have open access exemptions’

Exceptions in the UK funding councils’ open access policy will be made for researchers hired from abroad, the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s head of research has pledged.

David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at Hefce, made the promise in response to concerns expressed by Sir Ian Diamond, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s first hearing of its open access inquiry.

Sir Ian told the hearing, held today, that the requirement in the funding councils’ draft open access policy for all papers submitted to the 2020 research excellence framework to be freely available online could effectively prevent universities from hiring researchers from abroad since their papers were unlikely to be open access and, hence, would be ineligible for REF submission. 

But Mr Sweeney told Times Higher Education after the hearing that the funding councils had “no intention” of constraining universities’ hiring policies.

“We recognise the need to make allowances for outputs published before staff were appointed and we look forward to working with Universities UK and others on the details,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sir Ian dismissed concerns that junior researchers would lose out in the rationing of the block grant for article fees provided by Research Councils UK.

He said that it was in the “strong interest” of Aberdeen to make sure the careers of those it brought to the university “flourished”.

The three-hour hearing also saw Douglas Kell, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, express confidence that compliance with RCUK’s open access policy would be very high. He said a recent survey by RCUK of 108 “top” journals found that 97 per cent were already compliant.

On the cost of open access, Audrey McCulloch, chief executive of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, said that in order to sustain the “income they expect from their publishing arms” in a fully open access world, society publishers would potentially have to double their current article fees.

Alicia Wise, director of universal access at commercial publisher Elsevier, defended the company’s 37 per cent profit margins, attributing them to its efficiency. She said its average article fee was in line with the standard figure estimated by the Finch report on open access of around £1,750.

She suggested higher education could save money by avoiding the “duplicate effort” of requiring papers to be deposited in institutional repositories even when they were freely available on publishers’ websites. She described forcing authors to self-archive papers as “one administrative hassle too far”.

Cameron Neylon, advocacy director at PLOS, said he had no problem with authors paying high fees provided this genuinely correlated with a high quality of service. He suggested that publishers who were worried that a Microsoft Word version of an article in a repository would damage traffic to their own site were not really adding the value they claimed to the article.


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