HEFCE, the REF and open access

HEFCE2The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is certainly a hot topic at the moment. Many in the academic science community are frantically assembling their submissions for the 2014 round of the REF before the deadline on 29 November. This follows on from the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) last completed in 2008.

However, there may be significant changes to the nature of the publications submitted in November compared to those put forward for the last round. Since then, the Research Councils, along with other key funders such as the Wellcome Trust, have developed open access policies and implemented open access mandates which require that a certain proportion of outputs from the research they fund should be published in an open access format.

While some of the publications put forward for the 2014 REF will undoubtedly be open access, it seems that things could be different once again when the next round comes along.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), who administer the REF along with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Department for Employment and Learning, have launched a consultation on open access for the post-2014 REF. They are proposing that all research outputs included in the next round must be published in an open access form. This is in line with their policy that the outputs from all research supported by their funding should be as widely and freely accessible as the available channels for dissemination permit. This proposal was developed following the advice received in response to their previous call for advice on open access.

When the research and publishing landscapes are considered as they are now, these proposals may seem unachievable and unrealistic. (Indeed, they were met with a gasp when I mentioned them to my science researcher Father). However, given the current drive and momentum of the open access movement, the landscape may be very different in 2020 – the time the next REF will likely roll around. Given the importance and the emphasis placed on the REF, surely such a mandate would be a significant incentive and driving force towards the whole-hearted adoption of open access publishing? Perhaps it would provide the key push that the science community has needed to truly get behind the open access wagon?

Or perhaps these proposals present unrealistic and stifling aims? Researchers remain somewhat divided on open access and the funder’s mandates are still in their infancy. Indeed the Finch report is barely a year old – could this be a case of too much too soon? Should we wait and see how the open access movement pans out before we fully commit in such an absolute way?

The Biochemical Society is working with the Society of Biology to formulate a response to this consultation. As such, we’d like to know the opinions and perspectives of our members with regards to the points HEFCE have proposed. They are seeking comments on their suggested criteria, including the definition of the research outputs to which the criteria should apply and the proposed approaches to exceptions from the open access requirement. If you would like to contribute to our response and make your opinions heard, please contact our Science Policy Officer, Cat Ball, at  catherine.ball@biochemistry.org.

In the meantime, good luck to anyone grappling with their current REF submissions…

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