House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee has today published a critical report on the Open
Access (OA) policy introduced on
April 1st by Research Councils UK (RCUK).
it welcomes the Government’s desire to achieve full OA, the Committee is
critical of the way it is going about it, and critical of the way in which the Finch Report (which was commissioned
by the Government) looked at the evidence and arrived at its conclusions — conclusions
on which the RCUK policy is based.
all, the BIS Committee is highly critical of the Government’s and RCUK’s preference
for Gold OA, and their failure to give due regard to the “vital role” that
Green OA and repositories can play in moving the UK towards full OA.
without exception, our evidence has pointed to gaps in both the qualitative and
quantitative evidence underpinning the Finch Report’s conclusions and
recommendations,” the report says, “most significantly a failure to examine the
UK’s Green mandates and their efficacy.”
adds, “This has been replicated in the formulation of the Government and RCUK’s
open access policies and their mistaken focus on the Gold solution as the
primary route to achieving open access at scale in the UK.”
than the Gold-preferred approach that RCUK has adopted, the Committee asserts, “The
major mechanism of transition must be Green open access, specifically through
strong immediate self-archiving mandates set by funders and institutions,
either as a funding condition or tied to research assessment as
on the report, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and MP for
West Bromwich West, Adrian Bailey said, “In a
fully open access world, the benefits of Gold open access may well outweigh
those of Green open access. We are not yet in an open access world, however,
and the key to the success of open access policy is how we get there. The
Government and RCUK have given insufficient consideration to the transitional
period and the vital role of the Green route. The evidence suggests that the
cost of unilaterally adopting Gold open access during a transition period are
much higher than those of Green open access.”
Gold-preferred approach, explained Bailey, would be unnecessarily damaging for university
budgets. “At a time when the budgets of universities are under great pressure,
it is unacceptable that the Government has issued an open access policy that
will require considerable subsidy from research budgets in order to both
maintain journal subscriptions and cover article processing charges”.
added, “It became increasingly evident during the course of our inquiry that
some elements of the scholarly publishing market are dysfunctional. The
Government’s open access policy risks making the situation worse, causing
longer embargoes, restricting access, and inflicting higher costs on UK higher
to this criticism RCUK has made a number of changes to its OA policy, including
lengthening the permitted embargo period. The BIS Committee is now effectively asking
RCUK to make a complete U-turn.
The BIS Committee has recommended that, amongst other things, RCUK reinstate and strengthen the immediate deposit mandate that was in its
original policy (and in line with the proposals outlined by the Higher Education Funding Council
for England [HEFCE] in July), and that it revise its policy to place
an upper limit of 6 month embargoes on STEM subject research and up to 12 month
embargoes for HASS subject research.
It also recommends that the Government take an
active role in promoting standardisation and compliance across subject and
institutional repositories, and that it mitigate against the impact on
universities of paying Article Processing Charges out of their own reserves.
If RCUK maintains its preference for Gold, it adds,
the Government and RCUK should amend their policies so that APCs are only paid
to publishers of pure Gold rather than hybrid journals to “eliminate
the risk of double dipping by journals, and encourage innovation in the scholarly
BIS report also highlights a number of negative consequences that the RCUK
policy has already had, including the way it has encouraged publishers to seek to restrict Green OA self-archiving. “Current UK open access
policy risks incentivising publishers to introduce or increase embargo periods.
On the other hand, we saw no evidence that short embargo periods harm
subscription publishers,” says Bailey.
In addition, the report expresses concern about
RCUK’s insistence that when authors pay for Gold OA their papers should be made
available under a Creative Commons Attribution Only (CC-BY) licence. It therefore recommends that the Government “keep an open mind
on licensing requirements” and “commission independent research on the
implications of the most common licences if necessary.” In the meantime, it adds,
the Government should “monitor complaints by authors and institutions about
breach of licensing conditions or inappropriate reuse of content.”
Committee also deprecates the use of non-disclosure clauses by publishers when
selling “Big Deal” subscriptions. “Non-disclosure clauses severely limit the
negotiating power of universities over subscriptions costs,” it says. “If
dialogue does not resolve the problem, the Government should refer the matter
to the Competition Commission.”
report concludes, “The Minister for Universities and Science [David Willetts] and members
of the Finch working group are due to meet in September 2013 to assess impact
and progress of open access policy. RCUK has said it intends to review its
policy in 2014, to assess how developments compare to their expectations, and
to meet annually after that. As part of those reviews, both Government and RCUK
must fully consider and address the conclusions and recommendations set out in
key question, of course, is whether the report’s recommendations will be acted
upon. By convention, the Government responds to select committee reports within
two months. However, the Government is not bound to accept any recommendations
of a select committee and it can reject recommendations when it responds.
OA advocates are confident that the Government and RCUK will have little choice
but to listen to the Committee. Writing on Google+ de facto leader of the OA
movement Peter Suber puts it this
“The BIS Committee has no formal or legal control over BIS policies, including
the OA policy. But its report is a major political blow to the current policy.
The government will either have to justify the current policy, in the teeth of
the evidence produced by the Committee, or make concessions.”
adds, “One reason is simply that this is the relevant oversight committee in
Parliament. But another is the Committee's careful documentation. The current
policy relied on a report that overlooked or misrepresented a host of key
facts. The committee has done its homework, unearthed the facts, documented
them, and drawn the right conclusions from them. In the name of evidence-based
policy-making, as well as the public interest in open access to publicly-funded
research, the government should acknowledge the weight of the evidence and
modify its policy.”
I contacted RCUK I was told that while a more considered response is likely to
be issued in due course, its initial response is as follows:
Research Councils UK (RCUK) notes the
report on Open Access from the House of Commons BIS Committee and will consider
its recommendations carefully. We welcome the committee’s support for 6/12
month embargoes, reflecting RCUK policy.
Many of the issues around embargoes,
APCs, licences and the international landscape will be considered, alongside
evidence, as part of our 2014 review of the implementation of the RCUK policy and
through subsequent reviews.
The Research Councils continue to be
committed to ensuring that the outputs of the research we fund are widely available
to a multitude of users.
We continue to have a preference for open
access through “gold”, with its more immediate benefits for society, the
economy and wider research, whilst continuing our commitment to supporting a
mixed model for both gold and green routes for Open Access.
We will continue to
work closely with BIS, other researcher funders, the academic communities and
the publishers as we actively consider the evidence and outcomes from our
I attach comments from a number of other stakeholders, including David Sweeney, Director
(Research, Innovation and Skills) at HEFCE, Alma Swan, Director of Advocacy, SPARC
and three researchers who gave oral evidence to the Committee: Stevan Harnad,
Martin Eve and Andrew Massey.
HEFCE’s David Sweeney
We note the report and welcome the
efforts of the committee in considering these issues in a way that is both
thoughtful and quite detailed.
We welcome the report's recognition
for the role that institutional repositories can play in the journey towards
open access. We see many benefits of the increased availability of research
outputs through repositories, including:
(a) the increased potential of automated access through methods such as
(b) the increased ease of administration of a future REF.
We warmly welcome the report's
recognition that our policy proposals protect authors' freedom of choice, as do
those of RCUK.
We appreciate the report's recognition
of the close complementarity between HEFCE's proposals and the RCUK open access
policy. We believe our policies working together will support a successful
transition to sustainable open access publishing.
More generally the report manages to
move beyond the adversarial view taken by some parties in the open access
debate. The report notes particularly that unembargoed green open access in
high energy physics sits well with a subscription model. The report also notes,
in para 65,that proponents of green open access in a transitionary period
recognize the potential benefits which may then accrue from an optimal gold
environment as envisaged by the Finch Group.
In our view substantial further
progress in open access will be achieved by a flexible approach in a
transitionary period leading to a common goal. We believe that all parties have
something to offer to make this transition successful and we look forward to
innovatory approaches by both new and established publishers, working together
with the academic community and with funders.
I am very pleased that the Committee
has really taken evidence properly into account. A major disappointment of the
Finch Group study and report was the ignoring or misrepresenting of the
situation, even where data and evidence were available to be weighed up.
Whether this was wilful or just incompetence we'll never know, but it was
enormously damaging to OA. Now this Committee has collected and examined all
the evidence available and drawn from it the sensible conclusions that Finch
should have done.
The report pulls no punches in
criticising both Finch and RCUK where they have failed in the evidence-weighing
and also failed OA and the British taxpayer. This is right. Plenty of criticism
in this vein was offered — I believe constructively — at the time to both Finch
and subsequently to RCUK as it dithered and slithered through its contorted
policymaking process, but neither took the suggestions on board. Nor did they
appear to welcome the well-informed dissent as something that could be used positively
to improve their work. This BIS Committee report represents the foundation of a
cathartic process, hopefully.
Now what needs to be done is for Mr
Willetts, Dame Janet and her group, and RCUK to accept the report's findings
and recommendations and to use those to improve the policy. This is their
opportunity to put the previous process behind them and work out a better
solution. There is lots to use there to build a really great policy and I do
believe that the world-leading policy that our Research Councils previously had
can be re-found. RCUK can again be in the forefront of global policymaking. It
is sad it lost its place, and it is true that around the world there is much
bemusement at the direction the UK has gone in, but now this can be changed.
Mistakes happen. Their primary
advantage is to be learned from. I believe RCUK can come out with a cracker of
a policy if freed up from the constraints placed upon it by the twin demands of
'Gold first' and not disrupting the publishing industry. Disrupting scholarly
publishing is the second part of the definition of Open Access. We want change,
for the better. That doesn't come by leaving things as they are. RCUK has been
working with its hands tied and hopefully the BIS report will result in the
shackles coming off.
One could hardly have hoped for a better outcome from
the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee's Report. If BIS's
recommendations are followed then the UK will regain its global leadership role
in the Open Access movement -- the role the UK has been playing ever since the
Report by Ian Gibson's Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and
Technology. That Report had recommended that UK's universities and funding
councils should mandate Green OA self-archiving of all peer-reviewed research
articles. In the ensuing years more and more of the rest of the world began to follow suit.
The 2013 BIS Report (I,
now recommends mandating;
1. that the Green OA deposit
in the institutional repository should be immediate
rather than delayed, whether or not Open Access to the deposit is embargoed by
the publisher (during any OA embargo the repository's eprint-request
Button can then enable the author to fulfill individual user eprint
requests automatically with one click each if deposit was immediate),
3. that Gold
OA publishing should either no longer be preferred or hybrid Gold should no
longer be funded.
The BIS recommendations now perfectly complement HEFCE's
recommendation to make immediate-deposit a condition for eligibility for
REF 2020 (thereby effectively recruiting universities to serve as the mechanism
for ensuring timely compliance, following the highly successful mandate
model of the University of Liège). This effectively fixes the flaws
in the Finch Report. The UK's OA policy will now also be compatible with OA
policies in the EU, the US and the rest of the world, doing them all one better
with its explicit call for immediate institutional deposit and effective
- Martin Eve, Lecturer in English Literature, University
of Lincoln comments:
The BIS Select Committee Inquiry into
Open Access report is to be praised for addressing several important issues
that arose during the inquiry. The most striking part of the report, however,
seems to be the focus on creating a manageable transition period.
The strong support for green route
mandates coupled with the recommendation of greater support for OA-only
journals (but not hybrid publications) sets out a five-year path to begin
working towards sustainable gold. It is also excellent that the committee has
recommended a competition inquiry against the cartel-like practice of
non-disclosure agreements on big-deal bundling if the matter cannot be
eliminated through dialogue.
For those in the humanities who feared
the gold route (perhaps because it has been erroneously equated with APCs, or
even for other reasons), this should come as a welcome reprieve. That said, it
will be interesting to see whether we can develop acceptable methods for citing
versioned deposits in institutional repositories and whether these will hold up
on the world stage; after all, if citation practices in humanities disciplines
strongly require reference to the publisher's version, rather than the accepted
version (that HEFCE looks set to mandate), then the benefits of green OA could
It is, however, extremely heartening
that the inquiry recommends an upper embargo limit of 12 month for HASS
subjects, which will ensure that those working on rapidly changing fields are
not overly damaged through lack of access.
Overall, there is much of merit here.
Based on my reading of the summary recommendations, I feel that the panel has
understood `the core issues and given sound guidance on a route forward
(although I was unable to see evidence of alternative proposed gold business
models and was worried that the panel seems to propose propping up publisher
coffers through additional APC funds).
I remain convinced that open access
holds great benefits for our institutions and researchers and that the gold
route is, ultimately, the best way to achieve that. In our quest to get there,
though, this report has recommended the middle way while also firmly steering
the agenda forward. I may not like their transparent title — “achieving a
functional market” — but I do cautiously welcome the report, with the above
- Andrew Massey,
Professor of Politics, University of Exeter comments:
I welcome the Report of the HoC BIS
Committee on Open Access. It is measured and acute in its analysis and
recommendations. The depth and breadth of evidence from all perspectives of the
Open Access debate was properly weighed and reflected in the Committee's
The key issues from the perspective of
Humanities and Social Science were given proper credence and in the evidence
and discussion it was rightly observed that the model of OA that has been
applied to STEM may not readily transfer across to the HSS disciplines without
there being due regard paid to the different structure, culture and economic
models that apply to these disciplines.
While I accept that many OA adherents
believe to the contrary, it remains true that ‘one size does not fit all’ and
it is important that this has been debated by the Committee. The points and
recommendations regarding “Gold” and “Green” and the blind dash for Gold
without proper consideration of Green routes and without full and proper
consultation of the preferences of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and
their representative professional associations is a welcome part of the Report.
As is the recognition that in HSS subjects there simply is not the money to pay
for APCs. Indeed, to force researchers to pay for these would amount to a pay
cut as they would have to do so out of their own pocket.
Furthermore, the initial acceptance by
Finch, RCUK, HEFCE and the Government (since somewhat modified) of CC-BY as the
preferred licensing option across all disciplines has been rightly criticised
as being imposed without consultation, debate or proper evidential reason.
While I believe the 12 month embargo
for HSS papers ought to be 24 months, I accept the case for this needs to be
made. I also note the Committee has questioned the belief of Government, RCUK
and others that the rest of the world is going gold and that the UK needs to
maintain its lead here. As the Committee point out, there is very little
evidence for this claim. Indeed, the rest of the world appears to have opted
for the green route.
Overall I welcome the analysis and
recommendations of the Committee which has demonstrated the importance of
evidence based policy making, with a need for policy to be based on analysis,
empirical evidence and wide consultation. It is only to be regretted that the
Government, HEFCE and RCUK did not engage in this prior to their various initial
policy statements on OA.
Nature news story is available here.
news item from The Bookseller is available here.
by researcher Stephen Curry is available here.