The permissible length of embargo period for repository-provided green open access has been a bone of contention ever since RCUK announced in its new open access policy, published last summer and due to come into effect in April, that it would require green embargoes of no longer than six months in the sciences and - temporarily - 12 months in the humanities and social sciences.
Many publishers complained that such short periods would prompt libraries to cancel journal subscriptions.
During the Lords Science and Technology Committee’s recent hearing into open access, RCUK confirmed that it endorsed a “decision tree” produced by the Publishers Association, which indicated that RCUK’s stated embargo periods only applied where publishers did not offer a “gold” option to make papers immediately open access, sometimes in exchange for an article fee.
Where such an option was offered, the permissible embargo periods for green open access were 12 months for science and 24 months for other disciplines.
The decision tree, which has also been endorsed by the government, has been reproduced in RCUK’s revised guidance on its open-access policy, published today.
However, the guidance also emphasises that the shorter embargo periods remain RCUK policy and will only be waived, during a five-year transition period, where a university has used up its annual RCUK-provided block grant for the payment of gold article fees.
A spokeswoman for RCUK confirmed that since the choice between gold or green open access lay with researchers and institutions, this meant a university that eked out its block grant over the course of a year would be able to insist always on short green embargo periods, whereas a university that spent all of its block grant before the year was out would thereafter only be able to insist on the longer embargo periods.
But she said it was impossible to speculate on how universities would manage their block grants, and that this was one of the issues that would be examined during the policy review RCUK has committed to carry out at the end of next year.
The guidance also makes clear that although RCUK ultimately aspires for 75 per cent of its funded papers to be published via the gold route, the 45 per cent compliance it requires in the first year of the policy may be achieved via either the gold or green routes. Universities had expressed concerns that their block grants would not be large enough to fund that level of output available via the gold route alone.
“All we can really say is we have worked with the best information we have to hand,” the spokeswoman said. “We acknowledge there are these concerns: therefore, we are trying to ensure there is some flexibility in the embargo periods that will hopefully help the transition along while we gather the information and make the calculations even more robust and evidence-based.”
RCUK has pledged to further revise its guidance “where aspects may still not be clear”, and is inviting comments by 20 March.