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Tickell still positive but admits much remains to be done

We previously posted in March 2016 about Adam Tickell’s advice to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on Open Access to research (OA).  Following the end of the UK Research and Innovation 5-year transition period Professor Tickell, Independent Chair of the Universities UK Open Access Coordination Group, has now reported again to the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy with a refreshed evidence base .

Completed in  June 2018 but not released until February this year in many ways the report anticipates yet is superseded by the international effort of cOAlition S –  the Plan S initiative launched September 2018. UKRI is a leading member of the cOAlition S group of research funders.

Key finding

Following the 5-year transition period that ended in April 2018 the hoped-for transformation of the scholarly publications landscape from reader pays to author pays hasn’t happened.

Detail from Figure 7: The number and type of articles published by the top 10 publishers (by number of articles published) in 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 as well as the average APC cost by article type for each publisher.
(Open Government Licence)

Some key recommendations

  • The block grant, established by RCUK in 2013 to support the payment of article processing charges (APCs), should be continued by UKRI beyond 2020, although Tickell acknowledges that it’s unlikely to continue as a permanent feature of the publishing landscape
  • UK funders to work to harmonise UK OA policy. As UKRI is leading for the UK in cOAlition S, this harmonisation would likely be under the Plan S principles
  • A proposal for funders to commission and continue research to monitor the transition to OA
  • Universities UK and partners to encourage adoption of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). This is also a feature of Plan S aimed at research funders and institutions
  • University leaders should be more fully engaged with sector-level journal negotiations, i.e. with publisher negotiations under the leadership of organisations like Jisc to create multi-year ‘big deal’ agreements that usually comprise subscriptions, offsetting against hybrid OA, and sometimes a Gold OA element
  • The UUK OA Coordination Group to continue its Open Access Monographs Working Group under UKRI.  Open Access monographs have been required by the Wellcome Trust for some time and may be a requirement for the post-REF 2021; Plans S is likely to issue guidance in future

What about the publishers?

Given the key finding it’s not suprising that the relative market shares and dominance of the major players have barely changed since 2016; however, Springer Nature is singled out as one of the majors to have made a significant move towards pure Gold OA during the transition period and the Springer Compact for immediate Gold OA in eligible journals is highlighted as a possible model for other publishers.

Overall, publisher corporate positioning to increase profits and satisfy shareholders rather than create a sustainable ecology of open research seems to be a given. It’s perhaps for this reason that Wellcome introduced the idea of a  ‘blush test’ for authors to apply to APCs, when launching its revised OA Policy due to commence January 2020.  The Secretary of State, Chris Skidmore, underlined the need for cost control and sustainability in a recent written answer to the UK parliament.
In contrast, there are many smaller, fully Open Access model publishers that don’t require an APC at all.

The main recommendations are around publisher cooperation with other sector stakeholders to provide a more joined up service associated with their products, e.g. by providing authors with accurate information on their funder requirements and depositing metadata with the digital object identifier (DOI) service CrossRef on article acceptance.

Report and ministerial response

Open Data 

The report was published simultaneously with the Independent report Open Data Task Force: final report and our colleagues in the Research Data Management Team made a blog post for #lovedataweek.

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