Peers lament open access 'confusion'

The lack of clarity over Research Councils UK’s new open access policy is “unacceptable” and government ministers should learn lessons from the confusion, according to a House of Lords report.

February 22, 2013

The Lords Science and Technology Committee’s report on open access, published today, also criticises RCUK’s lack of consultation before publishing the policy last July.

During a hearing in the committee’s inquiry, RCUK representatives made clear that the policy will be phased in over five years, during which longer embargoes than those stated in the policy will be tolerated for repository-based green open access.

The report welcomes this flexibility, but adds that “the lack of clarity in RCUK policy and guidance, and the consequent confusion, especially given the imminent start date of 1 April, are unacceptable”.

The committee is also critical of RCUK’s failure to consult widely before publishing its finalised open access policy.

“RCUK has attended various stakeholder meetings in recent months, and circulated a draft policy to certain groups before publication…It did not, however, hold a public consultation and most of the discussions about the policy have taken place since its release,” it says.

“In the light of the significant confusion and perceptions that RCUK, at worst, ‘acted unilaterally’ […] we recommend that [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] undertake a review of how RCUK consulted over this significant change in policy with the scientific and publishing communities, to ensure that lessons are learnt.”

The report also criticises BIS for not carrying out a full cost-benefit analysis of its preference for gold (journal-provided) over green open access and calls on it to carry out an analysis that is regularly updated “to reflect actual rather than projected costs during the transition period”.

It welcomes RCUK’s commitment to monitor whether the rest of the world is implementing similarly gold-focused policies, which will be necessary if the UK is to avoid a long-term necessity to pay both to publish and to read articles from other countries.

“The Government must co-ordinate with other countries on open access policies,” the report says.

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