The two bodies have pledged to work with other research funders, learned societies and publishers to “support a managed transition to open access over the medium term”.
Astrid Wissenburg, director of partnerships and communications at the Economic and Social Research Council and a member of the RCUK Impact Group, said the move had been instigated by the government’s transparency agenda. In support of that aim, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, chaired a recent round-table discussion on promoting greater open access to research.
Dr Wissenburg said the research councils had for several years had an open-access mandate that required authors to deposit their papers in open-access repositories as soon as was practicable. The councils also consider author charges for “gold” open access to be an allowable indirect cost.
However, she said, compliance with the mandate was “not high” and the processes needed to be simplified for researchers. “It shouldn’t become a huge hurdle, but I am not sure we have cracked that bit of it.”
An impending internal research councils’ review might result in them “pushing the gold route a bit more”, Dr Wissenburg said.
But she was mindful of not trying to race too far ahead just yet, she said, pointing out that not all journals had established an open-access option and that some research communities, such as physics, were already well versed in using repositories while others remained slow to adopt new practices.
“Open access is a wonderful idea, but it needs to be implemented in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t disturb existing research cultures and practices,” she said.
Michael Jubb, director of the Research Information Network, said cooperation between the funding and research councils was essential to supporting any major move towards open access, in particular the gold version – because the demise of the subscription model would transfer the burden of paying for journals from library budgets, which are provided by the funding councils, to individual researchers, who are funded by the research councils.
The research councils had announced in early 2009 that they wanted to provide greater support for gold open access, Dr Jubb said. “But since then, nothing has happened. They just haven’t been prepared to put their money into their proclaimed policy.”
The funding councils, too, had been remiss, he continued. They “haven’t really engaged with the issue”, he said, and had failed to address questions such as whether to impose an open-access mandate after the inaugural research excellence framework in 2014.
Peter Murray-Rust, an open-access advocate and a chemistry researcher at the University of Cambridge, urged funders to enforce their mandates more rigorously.
“The reality is that unless scientists are forced to comply [by a financial penalty or some other sanction], many of them will not,” he said.