The new Open Access (OA) policy introduced this year by Research Councils UK (RCUK) — in response to last year’s Finch Report — has been very controversial, particularly its exhortation to researchers to “prefer” Gold over Green Open Access
When it was first announced there was an outcry from UK universities over the cost implications of the new policy. In response, on 7th September last year the UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts made an additional £10 million available to 30 research intensive universities to help pay OA transition costs.
But the controversy has continued regardless, and in January this year the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee launched an inquiry into the policy. The subsequent report roundly criticised RCUK for the way it had been implemented, and concluded that lack of clarity about the policy and the guidance offered was ‘unacceptable’. RCUK responded by making a number of “clarifications”, and extended the permissible embargo period before research papers could be made available under Green OA from 6 and 12 months, to 24 months — an extension that led many OA advocates to complain that a bad policy had been made worse.
In the meantime, the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee had announced its own inquiry, which at the time of writing remains ongoing. During this inquiry a number of new issues have emerged, including complaints that some publishers are exploiting RCUK’s new policy to pump up their profits (profits that many believe are already unacceptably high). There are concerns, for instance, that the £10m in additional funding that Willetts provided is being used inappropriately. At the centre of these new concerns is Elsevier, the world’s largest scholarly publisher.
When last September Willetts made an additional £10 million available to research intensive universities it was widely assumed that the money had been provided to help them meet the costs arising from the fact that when the new RCUK policy came into effect on April 1st this year their researchers would have to start paying to publish their papers.
This assumption was understandable: When BIS announced the grant it said the money was, “to kick-start the process of developing policies and setting up funds to meet the costs of article processing charges (APCs).”
In the same press release Willetts was quoted saying, “This extra £10 million investment will help some of our universities move across to the open access model. This will usher in a new era of academic discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of research to drive innovation and growth.”
Critics argue, however, that at least some of this money is being used to pay for papers that have already been published in subscription journals. Specifically, they cite the fact that on December 20th last year Elsevier approached JISC Collections — the organisation that procures digital content on behalf of UK research institutions — and offered, in effect, to sell back to UK universities the papers that their researchers had published with it during 2012. That is, it offered to make papers that had been published in subscription journals OA retrospectively.