Open Access is the future of publishing, says UK Government

Government accepts controversial findings of the Finch report recommending the 'Gold' model of OA, although critics say the hybrid model will not improve access to research.

Response to the Finch Report

The UK government has this month ignited further controversy by accepting the recommendations of the Finch Report - the working group established to investigate the role that Open Access (OA) publishing can play in expanding access to published research.

The report recommended a clear policy direction in the UK towards support for 'Gold' OA, where publishers receive revenue from authors in the form of article processing charges (APCs). Representatives of major research universities and proponents of 'Green' OA (where authors continue to publish in journals but place the papers in an institutional repository after an embargo period) have criticised the report, saying that the new arrangements would lead to significant additional costs but would not improve access to research.

The Government acknowledges that there are costs associated with OA but has made it clear that no extra funding will be provided. It is looking to the UK's academic Funding Councils and Research Councils to implement the report's recommendations, working together with academic institutions, researchers and publishers.

The Government says that Research Councils UK (RCUK) will now put in place "a simpler, more flexible and transparent mechanism that will allow institutions to set up publication funds to cover article processing charges". Universities should transfer this funding to an institutional publication fund, which can be used to pay for APCs for any article resulting from research council funding. The Research Councils will monitor compliance.

As Joanna Ptolomey points out in a recent InfoToday NewsBreak, many industry experts believe the shift to the Gold model favours the publishing sector more than it meets the needs of the global research community. Perhaps not surprisingly, the UK's Publishers Association, and the Association of American Publishers have been quick to voice their support for it.

Given that the report itself estimates that the additional costs for the higher education sector will be in the region of £50-60 million the UK research community has been vociferous in stating its concerns.  Interviewed in Richard Poynder's 'Open and Shut?' blog, David Price, UCL's Vice Provost for Research, said that the result of the Finch recommendations would be "to cripple university systems with extra expense. Finch is certainly a cure to the problem of access, but is it not a cure which is actually worse than the disease?"

Commenting on Joanna Ptolomey's post, The University of Southampton's Steven Harnad, perhaps the best-known supporter of Green OA, says that "if the Finch committee were heeded, the UK would lose both its lead in OA and a great deal of public money - and worldwide OA would be set back at least a decade."

So far there has been muted comment from the library community. Given the many unanswered questions perhaps this isn't surprising.  One library blogger noted the important role that librarians will have to play in the process, and encouraged others "so let's roll our sleeves up and get involved!" It remains to be seen whether there are more dramatic consequences for libraries as details are worked through, and budgets reapportioned.

The Finch Report can be found here