Independent review of the implementation of RCUK Policy on Open Access

OASince April 2013 there have been changes in the way that Research Council-funded researchers have published their findings. Although there was momentum already building towards open access (OA) publishing in the bioscience research community, the Research Council UK’s (RCUK’s) open access policy arguably served to formalise this.

After the introduction of this mandate in April 2013, researchers are expected to publish any peer-reviewed research papers which acknowledge Research Council funding in compliant journals. These are defined as journals which ‘provide, via their own website, immediate and unrestricted access to the final published version of a paper, which should be made available using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence, and allow immediate deposit of the final published version in other repositories without restriction on re-use’. This may involve payment of an Article Processing Charge (APC) to the publisher. Alternatively, the policy states that a compliant journal must ‘consent to deposit the final Accepted Manuscript in any repository, without restriction on non-commercial re-use and within a defined period’. In short, so-called ‘gold’ OA is preferred, but where this isn’t a viable option, ‘green’ OA is advocated. The decision tree below outlines how the policy works in practice.

RCUK decision tree.

Crucially, in order to aid the implementation of the policy, the Research Councils introduced a new funding mechanism from April 2013 – a block grant to universities and eligible research organisations to cover the cost of APCs.

On introducing the policy, RCUK committed to a number of independent reviews during the transition period (five years from April 2013) to monitor the implementation of the policy and provide advice where needed. The first of these reviews was announced in July this year and covers the first sixteen months of the policy’s implementation until 31 July 2014.

The Biochemical Society, and its wholly-owned trading subsidiary Portland Press Limited, fed into this Review via contributing to the Society of Biology’s response. This response aimed to present an over-arching view of the landscape, focusing on three key questions posed by the Review: the impact on learned societies; the effectiveness of the communication of the policy; and the impact on the wider OA landscape.

The Society of Biology’s collective response highlighted that a sustainable model of scholarly communication is vital to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in science and innovation, and in scholarly publishing. Equally, it stressed that the invested support of the active learned society community is a key element of its growth, development and excellence. It is therefore essential that RCUK policy developments enable a functioning market of journal publication without any loss of support for the scientific community.

The response made several recommendations. It called on RCUK to highlight emerging examples of good practice by institutions in communicating the policy to their research communities. It also suggested that RCUK collates descriptions of functioning models for allocation of the block grants and disseminates these as appropriate in order to promote good practice.

The response emphasized that, in many instances, it is too early to know the full extent of the effects of the RCUK policy. However the Society of Biology urged RCUK to monitor this situation closely and take action as appropriate, particularly in the context of concerns that the policy should not restrict UK researchers’ ability to act as prominent authors in international collaborations.

Finally, the Society of Biology’s input recommended further careful monitoring of the impact of RCUK’s OA policy, particularly in light of the fact that the review has been regarded as too soon to truly reveal the effects on the community by many. The response recognised the wise foresight in pre-arranging an early review in case of early disruption but, as this has not occurred, further periodic reviews to fully monitor the evolving impacts were called for.

Portland Press Limited (PPL), the wholly owned trading subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, has observed an increased percentage of papers from the UK where the authors have chosen to make their papers open access over the last 3 years. It is difficult to say whether this change is directly attributable to the RCUK policy as it is difficult to disambiguate the impact of this from the recent implementation of the HEFCE OA policy for the 2020 REF as well as the momentum towards OA publishing which was already building in the bioscience community.

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