Finch II and an open access overview

OAA lot has changed in the open access landscape in the year since the Finch Report was published. Now that the follow-up report has been disseminated, it’s a good time to take stock of these changes and look at how far the open access movement has come…

When prompted to think of the big events of summer 2012, most minds will probably turn to the London Olympics and the resulting case of Gold Medal Fever which spread across the Nation. However, to those in the publishing community, summer 2012 heralded another big event: the publication of the Finch report. Gold was certainly involved there too.

The Finch Group, an independent group of stakeholders chaired by Dame Janet Finch and set up by BIS (the Department of Business Innovation and Skills), published its report on how research findings could be made more accessible. The report recommended Gold open access (OA) with CC-BY licences as the ultimate goal. However, the report acknowledged that an immediate transition to Gold OA would be a difficult task and so advocated a mixed approach (OA and subscription/license based journals) for a transitional period, and made clear that the switch to Gold OA would require extra funding for APCs (article processing charges). The Finch Group also suggested that wider access could be provided via public libraries in the UK.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) subsequently adopted these recommendations and set a date of enforcement of 1st April 2013. (Note: this wasn’t an April fool). It was stated that after this time all RCUK  peer-reviewed research articles which acknowledged Research Council funding should be open access; preferentially via the Gold model  or, in cases where this is not feasible, via the Green model. A compliance target of 45% was set for the first year of the policy with yearly increases proposed for the ensuing five-year period. The funders also announced an accompanying set of block grants to be administered by universities to meet the costs of Gold OA. These costs include not only the necessary APCs but also additional administration fees; indeed universities have free rein to use the block grants for whatever they see fit.

However, there were some concerns regarding RCUK’s OA mandates before they were even enforced and, in early 2013, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology held an inquiry. The Government responded in May 2013 and required RCUK to use clearer language to describe embargo periods, aided by the UK Publishers’ Association (PA) ‘decision tree’, which indicates embargoes of up to 12 months (in science, technology and mathematics disciplines) or 24 months (in the humanities and social sciences) for the Green OA option if there are no funds for the APC.

Since these developments, the progress of the open access movement has been rapid. A survey conducted by the PA showed that 70% of journals are now fully Gold or include a Gold OA option and 82% of these allow the author to choose a CC-BY licence.

So far, so good. However, amidst rumblings of dissatisfaction from certain sections of the scientific community over the UK’s preference of Gold over Green OA, in September this year the House of Commons BIS Committee disseminated a report on Open Access which criticised this stance. In being detracting of the recommendations made by the Finch report, little consideration was made of the position of learned society publishers. This is in sharp contrast to the Finch Report itself, the House of Lords Select Committee’s report and the Government’s responses. Furthermore the BIS committee didn’t seek input from the Finch Group and so didn’t allow the Group to explain that the motivation behind their recommendation of the Gold model came from the aim to accommodate as many stakeholders as possible. It is worth noting that the UK’s preference for Gold OA sets us apart somewhat from our European neighbours, where Green and/or mixed approaches are largely advocated.

Furthermore HEFCE had a consultation which ran until October this year which sought feedback on the proposals for the implementation of an open access requirement in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). Areas of focus included: the definition of the research outputs to which the criteria should apply; the proposed approaches to exceptions from the open access requirement; and the role of institutional repositories, particularly the point at which articles should be deposited. Given the importance and the emphasis placed on the REF, such a mandate could be a significant incentive and future driving force towards the whole-hearted adoption of open access publishing in the UK.

FinchMoving back to the current time, the follow-up Finch report was published earlier this week (18th November). It noted the significant progress made by the OA movement since the publication of the original report, saying that “Publishers and learned societies have… taken significant steps by increasingly the range of OA options available through their fully-OA and hybrid journals”. The report recommended that some form of co-ordinating structure be set up, convened by Universities UK, to secure dialogue and engagement across all the stakeholders in research communications, to co-ordinate their work and to handle problems as and when they arise.

Furthermore, the report reaffirmed the Finch Group’s support for a mixed economy in which both Gold and Green OA (the latter with appropriate embargoes where necessary) play important roles. They also reiterated their recommendation for a clear policy direction set towards support for Gold OA; a stance which will no doubt prove controversial with some in the community and in the wake of the BIS committee report.

It will be interesting to look back this time next year and see what further changes the open access publishing landscape has undergone. We know that there is no intention for a Finch trilogy; however if the current rate of change is maintained there will undoubtedly have been plenty of developments…

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