Monday, 21 January 2013

Notes from Open Access Forum, University of Kent


Open Mic: the panel take questions after the talks
Over fifty members of staff gathered in the Senate Chamber on 15 January to discuss issues around the Government’s Open Access (OA) policy. This had been developed following the publication of Dame JanetFinch’s report in June, which recommended that
‘a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded’.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, opened the Forum by making clear that ‘the direction of travel has been set for us, it is for us to discuss the best way to respond.’ She pointed out that the block funding from RCUK, some £59k for Kent, did not cover the majority of either funded or self-funded research that was currently undertaken, and that some thought needed to be given as to how the OA costs for this would be met.

Ultimately the only possible source for these would be QR. She emphasised that other institutions, both large and small, were having to make similar decisions.

Before handing over to the other speakers, she outlined for clarity the OA terms ‘gold’ and ‘green’:
  • GOLD open access is publication, normally in a standard journal that allows free access to any articles for which an ‘article processing charge’ (APC) has been paid. The RCUK block grant is intended to offset these APCs.
  • GREEN open access is self-archiving of articles that have appeared elsewhere. This may be in institutional repositories such as theKent Academic Repository (KAR), or subject-specific ones such as PubMed. The Research Councils have stated that archiving must happen within 6 months (or 12 months for AHRC and ESRC).


Prof Dick Jones (School of Computing, and Faculty Director of Research for the Sciences), stated that ‘in principle’ many in the Sciences were supportive of OA, and that many already did publish via OA journals or self-archive. However, he had a number of concerns, including:
  • The cost of imposing OA universally. If even half the articles currently published by the Faculty were made available via gold OA, the cost would be between £250k-£750k;
  • Having to pay twice, for both APCs and for subscriptions to the journals. This raised a further question of the iniquity of the current publishing model, which relied on academics writing for, editing, reviewing, reading and then paying for the journals.
  • How will APC funding be rationed? Will it be centrally? On what basis will it be provided – first come first served, or the merit of the work, or the impact factor of the journal?
  • The effect on learned societies. These relied on income from subscriptions, and, in turn, supported and developed their community. If their income source was to be removed they faced an uncertain future. Dr Ruth Blakeley (below) concurred with this, suggesting that the loss of learned societies would be more than ‘collateral damage’, as they provide support for both the sector and HEFCE consultations. 

Dr Ruth Blakeley (School of Politics & International Relations) stated that the Academy of Social Sciences was intending to lobby the House of Lords to stop the policy. Their concerns were:
  • One size does not fit all. There was a sense that OA had been developed to suit the publication culture of STEM subjects, and was not suited to the social science and humanities disciplines, which made more use of monographs and ‘slow burn’ articles.
  • It would exacerbate the funding divide. STEM subjects would require more funding for OA, and the policy would therefore exacerbate the already considerable difference in funding between the sciences and social sciences/humanities.
  • Intellectual property. The current policy suggested that publications should be covered by the most permissive ‘creative commons’ licence, CC-BY. This license would let others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon academic work, even commercially, as long as they credit the author for the original creation. Some perceive a danger in this: for instance, your work may be ‘hijacked’ by causes of which you disapprove. You would have no control over your work. Instead, the sector should push for the more restrictive CC-BY-NC-ND.
  • OA & American journals. Many of the top journals are based in the USA, which hasn’t mandated OA. As such, UK researchers with RCUK funding may be prevented from submitting to them. This may have an adverse effect on their career and profile.
  • OA & the REF. There has been the suggestion that publications submitted for consideration to the next REF may have to be OA. If so, there are implications about funding, timescales and, once again, whether academics are able to submit to the top journals.

Dr James Baker (School of History) had a more positive view of OA. He had worked on KAR, as well as working as an academic in History, and had thus seen the subject from two perspectives. He regarded the move towards OA as ‘a good thing’, as the current model for academic publication was unsustainable: even Harvard library was saying it could no longer afford subscription fees.
  • Misunderstanding. The response from the History discipline suggested that there was some confusion and misunderstanding in the community. An open letter from 21 leading historical journals had suggested that OA sanctioned plagiarism, which was untrue. In addition, there was a level of hypocrisy in the claim that OA would ‘require authors to sign away their rights’, as they already had to do so through traditional publication.
  • Monographs. Interestingly, there was little provision for monographs in the Finch Report, although this was the main avenue for publication in the humanities. Jisc and the AHRC had funded the OAPEN-UK project, to gauge whether allowing online access to monograph texts had had an effect on book sales. The results thus far suggested it hadn’t.

 Trudy Turner (Information Services) discussed some of the issues that IS, in support of the academic community, was facing in implementing OA. KAR would be at the forefront of this, and there had been considerable investment in making it fit for this purpose. KAR had 24,000 publication records, of which half included full text. This was a good proportion, but it was unclear how many publications had not been recorded at all. Nationally all institutions were having to ‘navigate the landscape’, and all were considering what the best model for funding publications should be.

Dr Simon Kerridge (Research Services) outlined some of the pros and cons of OA, before presenting a ‘straw man’ OA policy for discussion. The University did not want to restrict publication or academic freedom; however, there was a need to consider how best to distribute limited funding for OA. If it did not support OA there was the danger of facing RCUK sanctions. Moreover, OA offered potential benefits, such as an increase in citation rates. The straw man policy suggested that the University should encourage/mandate green OA through KAR.

Prof Diane Houston (Graduate School) highlighted the potential impact of undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) publications. All PGs publish, and many UGs do too; should the University accept responsibility for paying for them to do so through OA? If the University did pay, there should be different criteria for publication from those applied to staff, and there was a need for a level playing field between disciplines.


The Vice Chancellor asked for an indication of support for OA generally, and for green OA specifically. The majority of the audience appeared to accept it.

However, a number of questions were raised following the speeches, and issues covered included:
  • How would international collaborations or multiple authored publications be handled?
  • How seriously would universities implement or monitor OA policies?
  • Who is the perceived audience who do not already have access to academic publications?
  • How would funding to facilitate OA be agreed and distributed?
  • Should the sector collectively oppose the Government’s policy on OA?


It was agreed that a representative working group be convened to further develop and consult on the ‘straw man’ OA policy. 

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