UKRI open access policy mandates free-to-read monographs

Publishers criticise continued embrace of ‘green’ model alongside ‘gold’, but funder insists it has struck the right balance

August 6, 2021
PIle of books
Source: iStock

UK Research and Innovation has confirmed that journal articles based on scholarship it funds must be made freely available at the point of publication from April 2022 onwards, with a similar requirement – albeit with the option of a 12-month embargo – applying to monographs from January 2024.

The umbrella funding body’s finalised open access policy, published on 5 August, was criticised by some publishers, who warned that its embrace of the “green” model, under which authors lodge a free-to-read “accepted manuscript” in a depository at the point that a paper is published in a subscription journal – alongside the “gold” model of open access periodical publication – “could undermine efforts to continue to publish research to the high standards of quality the UK is known for”.

In many ways, the monograph requirement is more controversial, with arts and humanities scholars having raised concerns about whether sufficient funding will be available to cover the processing charges associated with open access publishing, as well as the impact on smaller publishers. However, trade books will be exempted from the policy.

Sir Duncan Wingham, UKRI’s open access champion, said the funder had tried to strike a balance between affordability, sustainability and flexibility in giving authors a choice of publishing venues.

“This won’t all happen overnight, and it won’t happen without an effort from everybody to make it happen. Publishers, institutions and the individual authors will need to adapt to our policy in pursuit of a very simple thing, which is that publicly funded research should be made publicly available,” Sir Duncan told Times Higher Education.

“All of us actually now have a responsibility to try and make this work for us.”

UKRI said its funding councils would provide increased funding of up to £46.7 million per annum to support the implementation of the new rules.

Under the policy, journal authors will have the choice of the “gold” or “green” model, with no embargo period allowed. UKRI funding will not be allowed to support publication in hybrid journals, which collect subscriptions as well as accepting payment for open access papers, unless they have a “transitional agreement” under which they are moving towards full open access.

This would bar publication in prestigious titles such as Nature for UKRI-funded research, the journal’s publisher said.

On monographs, book chapters and edited collections, the final version of record or the author’s accepted manuscript must be made available via a website or repository within 12 months of publication, but the policy says UKRI recognises that “there may be rare instances where meeting open access requirements for long-form publications may not be possible” and allows for a number of exceptions.

These include “where the only appropriate publisher, after liaison and consideration, is unable to offer an open access option that complies with UKRI’s policy”, where the publication is the result of a training grant, or where permission for the reuse of third-party materials cannot be obtained. Trade books are also exempt, and the decision about whether a title falls into this category “is at the discretion of the author and publisher”.

The chief executive of the Publishers Association, Stephen Lotinga, said its members “wholeheartedly support full gold open access and welcome the commitment to provide additional funding to achieve this”.

But, he added, “significant concerns” remained about the green option. “This green open access route is unsustainably linked to subscription models and could undermine efforts to continue to publish research to the high standards of quality the UK is known for,” Mr Lotinga said.

“On monographs, it is crucial that sufficient funding is directed to support the transition as the open access models are in their infancy and much longer lead times are involved.”

Sir Duncan, chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, explained the policy’s “three primary considerations” to THE. “One is affordability to the sector. In other words, we don’t want to adopt a policy which [institutions] then can’t afford. The other is sustainability, so that the amounts that publishers can charge in pursuit of it allow them to continue.

“And we need to find a policy where, although we cannot possibly say to anybody, that every single journal that they’ve ever published in will be compliant, we need to be reasonably confident that most people will have a choice of journals in which to publish their work.”

Sir Duncan said UKRI had taken a “more cautious approach” to monographs, delaying the policy’s introduction and allowing 12-month embargoes, because “economic activity is much more marginal in monographs and, secondly, because the open access monograph market is less mature”.

But Sir Duncan said that “early on we took the view that there shouldn’t be a part of academia that somehow is excluded from the requirement that if they accept public funding, they should make that work available publicly”.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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