Two-thirds of UK academics back open access, survey finds

Jisc/RLUK study charts sector’s shift towards making research freely available online

June 28, 2016
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No restrictions: nearly eight out of 10 scholars in medicine and veterinary science backed open access

Nearly two-thirds of UK researchers support the abolition of journal subscription fees and a move to open access, according to a major study.

A survey of 6,679 academics commissioned by Jisc and Research Libraries UK found that 64 per cent of respondents supported making all academic research freely available, but also found significant differences of opinion by discipline.

Nearly eight out of 10 scholars in medicine and veterinary science backed open access, compared with fewer than half of those working in the arts and humanities.

The survey conducted last autumn is the second of its kind, following a similar study conducted in 2012, and charts how scholarly practice is evolving.

Nearly 40 per cent of respondents to the latest survey said that whether a journal made its articles freely available via the internet was a very important factor in choosing where to publish, compared with around 30 per cent three years ago, although a publication’s readership and reputation remained the key issues.

Thirty-nine per cent of academics said that circulating pre-print versions of research was an important way for them to communicate their findings, compared with 32 per cent in 2012, and one in five believed that academic publishers had been “rendered less important” by scholars’ “increasing ability to share…work directly with peers online”, up six percentage points.

Martin Paul Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, and founder of the Open Library of the Humanities, said the survey confirmed “what many have been saying anecdotally for years”.

“The ability to disseminate research material online to anyone with internet access, without the reader bearing the cost, is becoming more and more important to researchers from across a broad set of disciplines,” Professor Eve said.

The survey suggests that academics’ relationships with their university libraries are changing as a result of the shift to online publishing.

A quarter of respondents strongly agreed that the role of librarians at their institution was becoming “much less important”, and 15 per cent felt that money spent on library buildings and staff should be redirected to other priorities, with scientists being most likely to give these answers.

However, others reported a growing role for librarians in finding, storing and disseminating research electronically.

Seven out of 10 academics said that they would be happy with their library cancelling its subscription to the print edition of a journal, provided that the electronic version was available, and six out of 10 said they were completely comfortable with journals ceasing production of print editions.

However, the majority of academics continued to prefer printed monographs to e-books and there was a significant increase compared with three years ago in the perceived ease of using print formats for many activities, such as reading in depth and comparing ideas, relative to electronic alternatives.

Paul Feldman, Jisc’s chief executive, said the survey confirmed “that research practice is evolving and academics are embracing this change”.

Asked about their research more broadly, 41 per cent of respondents said that they shaped their research outputs and publication choices to match perceived criteria for success in recruitment and promotion processes, compared with only 25 per cent in 2012.

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