The policy, due to come in on April 1, states that compliant journals must either offer a gold open-access option (whereby an author can pay to make their paper instantly open access) or else permit “green” self-archiving after a short embargo period.
That period must be six months in science or 12 months in humanities and social science - although the policy states this latter embargo period should also eventually fall to six months.
In the wake of the policy’s announcement, publishers have complained that such short embargo periods will prompt libraries to cancel journal subscriptions, while universities and academics have fretted over the cost of gold article fees, particularly in the arts and humanities.
In its written submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into open access, RCUK says that when there are insufficient funds to pay a journal’s gold article fee, it would “strongly prefer the author to seek an alternative journal with an affordable ‘pay-to-publish’ option or with a green option with embargo periods of six or twelve months”.
However, in cases where this is not a “feasible option” it “would expect the paper to be published in a journal which allows green compliant OA, with an embargo period consistent with the Government’s response to the Finch Report of 12 months or 24 months, especially for research that acknowledges funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and/or the Economic and Social Research Council”.
RCUK chair Rick Rylance told a hearing of the Lords Committee’s inquiry, held on 29 January, that although the research councils wanted eventually to shorten the embargo periods to their mandated levels, they would be “relaxed” about policing them during the policy’s five-year implementation phase.
The only exception will be for papers funded by the Medical Research Council, whose long-standing six-month embargo will continue to be insisted upon.
Professor Rylance said enforcement of its shorter, mandated embargoes could be further delayed, or brought forward, following an interim review of its open-access policy due to be conducted at the end of 2014.
“In an atmosphere in which disaster scenarios are traded on a regular basis, it would be prudent to see where the dust settles and the hard evidence emerges,” Professor Rylance said.
The committee’s chair, Lord Krebs, suggested that, if that were the case, RCUK should not have already expressed such a firm preference for gold over green open access.
David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, said he was content that RCUK was faithfully implementing the government’s policy on green embargoes.
“I understand RCUK have ambitions of going even further but I think they accept the government’s policy is also the framework in which they will be operating before we reach the nirvana of which they dream,” he told the hearing.
Professor Rylance dismissed widespread claims that RCUK had not consulted prior to publishing its open-access policy in July. He also insisted that the policy, published a month after the Finch Report, was only a draft, with the final version due to be published at the end of February.
However, an RCUK spokeswoman later confirmed that it was only the guidance accompanying the policy that was yet to be finalised.