As chair of the UK Open Access Implementation Group, I and the group welcome the setting up of an independent working group to examine how UK-funded research findings can be made more accessible. The Group, whose members include Universities UK and the UK Research Councils, sees this as an excellent opportunity to pursue the policy work recommended earlier this year in the "Heading for the Open Road" report. Welcomed by publishers and the HE sector alike, this report recommended that the prudent policy position would be, with sensible safeguards, to take steps to encourage open access, both using repositories and open access journals.
Through the Open Access Implementation Group we have been both gathering evidence of the case for open access, and exploring practically how it can be implemented. There remains a gap, however, in our evidence of how open access can benefit the estimated 1.8m knowledge workers in the UK, and thereby enable full exploitation of the public science base. Three research studies have been commissioned by the OAIG and funded by Jisc to look into this, and will report in the next few months. We are also looking forward to the release this autumn of the findings of the study, co-funded by Jisc, RIN and the Publishing Research Consortium, to see where there are gaps in the provision of articles and conference papers. So, while evidence of the need for OA is now strong and widely accepted, it could be stronger still by the end of the year.
However, there are a number of thorny questions to be answered before OA will be widespread, either via repositories and/or journals.
For repositories, these questions include how researchers can get more value from their repositories. Several Jisc projects are developing solutions, and the best of these will be rolled out over the next year, and are likely to include improvements to the ways in which repositories work with other systems. Jisc is supporting shared repository services, and a new community-driven set of guidance on how this can be achieved.
There are a number of challenges facing OA journals, summarised in Neil Jacobs' recent blog post, which include the different costs faced by diverse universities under subscription and OA models. Jisc funded work to model the costs and benefits of OA to universities in 2010, with similar raw findings to those quoted recently by the THE. However, it is important to remember that, for much journal publishing, the costs of OA can be covered from research grants. The administrative processes for this need improving by universities, funders and publishers. The OAIG has commissioned work that will chart ways forward, and this will report in the next few weeks.
Members of the OAIG have had constructive discussions with representatives of the publishing industry, and look forward to working together on our numerous areas of common interest in implementing OA. Expect more news on this during the autumn.
Some of the casualties of the current system can be smaller journals, outside the "big deals", and research monographs. Small learned and professional societies are communities of scholars who often publish a journal. Increasingly, they turn to commercial publishing houses to run their journal for them. The OAIG has funded one professional society to use its own experiences to develop guidance for others on how to manage this, and how to consider the role of OA for their journal. Furthermore, responding to a groundswell of interest, Jisc has funded a number of small "campus-based publishing" projects, allowing researchers to use new technologies to run their own journals.
Research monographs are widely seen to be in crisis, with library budgets for them being squeezed by the rising costs of STM journals.
This is important, as there are many disciplines where a 7000 word article is simply inadequate to develop a nuanced and detailed argument, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Jisc is among several organisations (including the publisher Bloomsbury Academic) investigating whether OA monographs might be a route forward.
In summary, there is now a consensus that OA is both viable and here to stay. The discussions now are practical, about how to make it work for the research community, with its interests in dissemination, quality, and cost-effectiveness, and for the UK economy and society more broadly.