UKRI accepts open access monographs must be ‘fully funded’

Funder’s policy lead on open access talks of ‘ring-fenced path’ to cover costs

July 9, 2021
London, UK - October 22, 2016 A woman exploring used and second hand books and record bargains on London Thames Southbank.
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The UK’s main public research funder accepts that it will have to “fund fully” the cost of making monographs open access, its policy lead on the issue has told an online conference.

Sir Duncan Wingham, who is chairing the steering group reviewing UK Research and Innovation’s open access policy, also said the funder was likely to have a “ring-fenced path” for covering open access monograph costs.

As part of its open access review, UKRI proposed last year that all scholarly monographs, book chapters and edited collections by authors who are supported by its funds be made open access within 12 months of publication.

However, this prompted concerns that without extra funds to pay for the processing charges associated with open access publishing, many scholars would find it too hard to publish. Concerns have also been raised about the effect of a 12-month embargo on learned societies that publish and smaller publishing groups.

Sir Duncan, speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum policy conference on open access, said there was “very clear evidence that the margins involved in monograph publishing are very small, and in fact there is even evidence that as a business it is starting to become difficult”.

As a result, “we do accept that we…need to fund fully the cost of monograph open access for those articles that we fund”, he added, although he pointed out that UKRI-funded research represented only a small proportion of monographs in the UK.

Expanding his comments in a question-and-answer session, he said UKRI was “thinking of offering more time before the policy kicks in, maybe two years, maybe three.

“We are looking at embargoes also, because, again, the whole manuscript market is not in the same degree of maturity when it comes to open access as are articles.”

He also said, “I think we will have ostensibly a ring-fenced path for covering manuscript costs but will hold [grants] at the [research] councils and not distribute” them, unlike block grants for covering article open access, “simply because the volumes aren’t large enough”.

Sir Duncan, executive chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, added that UKRI would announce how much funding it would allocate for open access when its new policy is unveiled later in the summer, but “if you do a couple of back-of-the-envelope sums” based on the current funding formula, “you will realise that there is a strong argument for a significant increase”.

He added that UKRI continued to see block grants – which are currently given to research institutions to help them cover the cost of open access – as the “best mechanism to enable the universities to implement the policy”, although “we do very much acknowledge that the reporting on those grants is over-complicated and can be greatly simplified”.

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Reader's comments (1)

Thank you for covering this important issue. This article seems to focus on open access for UKRI-funded research. There is also the wider context of uncertainty over future policy regarding open access monographs and the REF. As I understand it, a consultation on this issue to occur after UKRI announces its updated Open Access policy. The UKRI March 2020 consultation document you cite in the article says: "Informed by the outcomes of the UKRI review, a detailed REF-specific OA consultation will be launched no later than six months after the UKRI policy is announced, taking into account the work within higher education institutions (HEIs) associated with preparing submissions for REF 2021. It will build on the evidence gathered in this UKRI consultation and address REF-specific issues, including compliance, tolerance of non-compliance and specific exceptions. It will inform the UK HE funding bodies’ decisions about the OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021. No changes will be made to the REF 2021 OA policy, which should be followed until further notice... The REF 2021 OA should continue to be followed until further notice at the beginning of the REF-after-REF 2021 publication window, which will start on 1 January 2021." However, we are now half a year on from the start of the publication window for the REF-after-REF 2021, and we still do not know what the rules will be for open access for that REF exercise. How can it be right to have a system of assessment where the terms under which the assessment take place are not agreed beforehand, or under which the terms may change part way through the exercise? For example, what happens if, later this year, a researcher signs a contract to publish their book, without an open access provision (this is typical in monograph publication, where open access is currently rare). However, at some point in the next few years the rules could then be changed to say that only open access monographs are eligible for the REF. Note that it can sometimes take several years to go from initial contract to publication. The researcher would suddenly find that their main research contribution is not eligible for the REF. Such a situation would clearly be unfair. Any reporting which THE can do to gain clarity on this issue would be greatly appreciated.