Revised Open Access Policy from RCUK

Research Councils UK (RCUK) have recently published a revised version of their Policy on Open Access, which is open for comments until  20th March and will come into effect on 1st April 2013.

The key differences from previous versions are

  • the statement that the RCUK “supports both ‘Gold’ and ‘Green’ routes to Open Access”, with a preference for “immediate Open Access with the maximum opportunity for reuse”
  • the acknowledgement that the move to Open Access will require “a transition period anticipated to be five years”
  • the permission of “different embargo periods across the disciplines”, with the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences having longer embargoes than the Sciences.

The new policy also clarifies the rules that journals have to follow in order to be considered RCUK-compliant. The preferred option in the older formulation of the policy was for journals to offer free access to articles under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY) after payment of an article processing charge (the ‘Gold’ route to Open Access). Under the revised guidelines, journals will also be considered compliant if they allow their authors to deposit the final accepted manuscript into an institutional repository under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence (CC-BY-NC) within six months of publication of the article, increased to twelve for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (the ‘Green’ route to Open Access).

Section 3.6 further elaborates the issue of embargo periods, reiterating that the longer intervals allowed for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are only ‘an interim arrangement’ and that the aim is to establish 6 months as the embargo period for all disciplines.

As in previous versions of the policy, funds for article processing charges (APCs) are to come from block grants made directly to  research institutions, which have then to decide how to apportion resources to their staff. The new policy acknowledges that the block grants are not going to cover all publishing costs for research-active institutions, and provides guidelines on what to do if no funds are available for APCs.  Firstly, “the Councils prefer the author to seek an alternative journal with an affordable ‘pay-to-publish’ option or with an option with embargo periods of six or twelve months”. If that is not possible, the RCUK “would expect the paper to be published in a journal with the embargo of 12 months, or 24 months in the arts, humanities and social sciences”.

The aim of the RCUK is to ensure that at the end of the five-year transition period 100% of the articles they fund are published as Open Access, with at least 75% published “through immediate, unrestricted, on-line access with maximum opportunities for re-use.”

Is this policy going to achieve these targets? And just as importantly, is it the most efficient, most effective, most equitable way of doing so?