Research funders provide OA support

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Sian Harris takes a look at some of the approaches that research funders take to open access and why

The past couple of years have seen a rush of new national and funder initiatives and mandates in the area of open access (OA). In recent months these have included new announcements from Norway, China and Mexico.

For example, the Research Council of Norway is introducing a new, five-year funding scheme to help pay for publication in OA journals.

The Research Council is setting aside NOK 8 million per year for the new scheme, which is open to all Norwegian research institutions whether or not they are funded by the Research Council. Research institutions may apply for funding to cover up to 50 per cent of their expenses related to publishing in OA journals.

In announcing the scheme, Arvid Hallén, director general of the Research Council, said, ‘With this scheme we hope to facilitate a more rapid transition to OA publishing of Norwegian research. This is important for giving all interested parties free access to new research results as soon as they are published.

‘We know that the institutions are in the midst of a costly transition period in which they must maintain their journal subscriptions as well as pay fees to open access journals,’ he continued.

The Research Council has also revised its policy on OA to scientific publications[1]. The revised policy encourages researchers who receive funding from the Research Council to publish their results in OA journals, in addition to continuing the requirement to self-archive all articles based on research funded by the Research Council.

In China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences will require its researchers and graduate students to deposit final, peer- reviewed manuscripts of research articles into the OA repositories of their institutes within 12 months of their official publication in academic journals [2].

The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) has announced a similar policy. Authors of research papers generated from projects fully or partially funded by the NSFC should deposit final peer-reviewed manuscripts accepted by journals in the NSFC repository for an embargo period of no more than 12 months.

The NSFC said in a statement: ‘NSFC requires its relevant departments to actively collaborate with relevant governmental departments and public education and research institutions to facilitate all OA to publications resulting from all government science and technology plans or generated from publicly funded projects.’

Meanwhile, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto explained his country’s approach: ‘In order to reaffirm my conviction of the need to insert Mexico into the information and knowledge society.

‘I signed amendments to the Science and Technology Act, the General Education Act, and the Organic Law of the National Council for Science and Technology. This legislation will provide Mexicans with free access to scientific and academic production, which has been partially or fully financed by public funds.’ [3]

To assist this goal, Mexico is setting up its National Repository of Open Access to Quality Scientific, Technological and Innovative Information Resources of Social and Cultural Interest. So what drives funders and governments to make such announcements and what does it mean for their researchers?

We put these questions to two funders that have had policies in place for a few years, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Wellcome Trust in the UK.

Johannes Fournier is programme director in the group ‘scientific Library services and Information systems’ at the DFG and in charge of the ‘Knowledge exchange’ (Open access; repositories) programme

Opening up the access to research literature helps to widen the already existing knowledge base efficiently, and has the

potential to increase the quality of research. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) understood its signature under the “Berlin Declaration on Open Access to the Sciences and the Humanities” (2003) as a self-obligation to explore what the organisation should do to help its grantees in providing OA to their research results. In 2004/2005, we surveyed the publishing habits of researchers with regard to OA.[4] Since it turned out that the majority of respondents was clearly in favour of OA, the DFG’s Joint Committee – that is the DFG’s main decision-making body – voted for an OA policy.

The DFG is an organisation self-governed by researchers. Our approach is characterised by encouraging OA, by offering support for providing OA via the green or the gold route, or by assisting with the development of the related information infrastructure. The DFG’s OA policy and its targeted funding programmes are meant to help communities that want and need OA because the open sharing of publications fulfils an important function in their research.

There is mainly anecdotal evidence that researchers are well aware of the DFG’s position and OA policy. Our policy is not mandatory; there is no strict obligation to publish in OA journals or deposit in OA repositories. The DFG’s approach is rather to offer assistance if a researcher wants to provide OA to the results from a DFG-funded project.

The research community’s awareness for OA has increased as well as the understanding of the many often complicated – financial, technical, organisational, legal – issues. The statistics from our funding programme ‘Open Access Publishing’[5] also indicate that the number of articles published in OA journals – although we are still talking about a relatively low average percentage – rises constantly. Looking at surveys and studies, it seems that OA comes more naturally than in previous years. It has certainly helped that many OA journals gained prestige, that deposition in OA repositories can be smooth, and that funders and research institutions offer support for covering article processing charges.

In addition, the notion of re-use and re- usability gets more and more important. Many in the research community are well aware that OA is not only about providing access, but also about removing the legal or technical barriers that may prevent a productive uptake of research results. And there is of course the discussion on open data which is related to OA, even if the management and re-use of research data leads to a whole range of further issues.

Implementing OA is a matter of transition – of cultural, financial, organisational transition to name but a few. The biggest challenge is to find mechanisms that would enable the research community to invest the money that is already spent to provide and disseminate publications to open up the access to those results in future. To transition already existing subscription journals into OA journals is one of the challenges that we face here. Such transition seems worthwhile not only with regard to financial aspects, but also with regard to the perceived quality and impact of already existing journals.

Another challenge is to define very clearly the kind of services provided by a publisher in the gold road, for example to ask for a specific licence that permits re-use, to agree on metadata formats, or to specify how articles are automatically deposited in the repository of an institution that covers the article processing charges. This brings me also to the notion of standards that need to be developed and agreed upon in order to minimise transaction costs when dealing with article processing charges, and initiatives like ‘ESAC – Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges’[6] begin to explore solutions here.

Implementing OA is not just about the digital format or about green and gold, but about a whole infrastructure and related services that need to be sustained. Knowledge Exchange, a network where the DFG is one of the five partners, is looking into this area as well.[7]

It helps to understand a policy less as a political statement and more as a document that explains to a researcher what kind of support is granted to help him or her in providing OA. The OA policies of many German universities are good examples for that since they very clearly describe these mechanisms – typically ranging from having a dedicated contact person for OA to assisting with deposit in repositories or covering article charges to hosting OA journals for university-based editors.

There is another benefit of having a policy. Many bodies will discuss the policy before it is finally agreed and published, and these discussions are important for a proper understanding of a community’s needs, concerns, and issues.

There are not only diverse approaches around the world; there are also diverse approaches across various disciplines and research fields. This diversity simply reflects the different needs, the different possibilities and the various circumstances. Any implementation of OA needs to take such differences into account. Having said this, a certain alignment of approaches should be possible even within the necessary variation. This may boil down to agreeing on specific standards for various approaches. The Global Research Council is already exploring this area.

We will certainly continue to work along the lines that are defined in our strategy paper ‘Taking digital transformation to the next level’.[8] In May 2014, we issued a call for tender ‘Open Access Transformation’ that asks for new, innovative OA approaches in all areas of the publishing process.[9] The DFG’s Joint Committee also recently decided to continue the funding programme ‘Open Access Publishing’ until the end of 2020. It is important to note, however, that the DFG offers funding

opportunities but it is up to the communities to respond to those opportunities, to hand in good proposals and, if the proposal gets funded, to develop clever solutions for OA that suit their often specific needs. We will work with partner organisations like Science Europe and the Global Research Council to explore how the transition to OA can be managed in the interest of the research community. 

Robert Kiley is head of digital services at the UK’s Wellcome Trust

Our approach developed because we believe that, to maximise the impact of research spend, the results need to be OA. We have had a policy since 2005/06 so it is reasonably well established.

When we first announced our policy compliance was about 15 to 20 per cent – it’s now around 70 per cent. Wellcome Trust researchers on the whole are responding to our approach, although obviously we want to get above 70 per cent. There are a mix of issues why people don’t comply. Sometimes authors simply forget, others publish papers and then move on to the next bit of research. Sometimes publishers’ choices can be confusing.

In addition, our policy catches any paper where one author is Wellcome Trust. That author might be the 15th author out of 100 and not the corresponding author so they may have little to do with that paper.

Our policy has always been that, if it mentions Wellcome Trust, there is funding to cover OA. We have seen an explosion of OA journals and also the development of the hybrid model, which means that researchers can continue to publish where they have always published.

At the Wellcome Trust we are beautifully clear. Author pays is our preferred model. If you decide to take that option you have to use CC BY. We are working with publishers to ensure they offer that option and that this licence information is exposed at the article level.

Last year we published a list of APC information. Next year we will publish licence information too. If a paper is silent on this information we will check with the publishers and authors. From the following year we will probably check and if a paper is not CC BY we will try to get our money back.

We were one of the organisations actively pushing for the change to the copyright legislation in the UK. We are delighted with the recent amendment. Our view is if you have lawful access to content you should be able to mine it. If you have content that you can read until you are tired out but as soon as you bring in a machine to help you have to ask that is silly.

In the UK the exception is non commercial at the moment. We’d like to see that non- commercial clause lifted so that people can mine research publications for commercial purposes too.

There are challenges around implementation of OA. A number of libraries say that it is very difficult to manage APCs at a granular level. We are moving from a position of one payment to a publisher to many payments to a publisher and we have not really got systems in place yet.

However, we are spending all this money on research to help improve human and animal health. Implementation is hard but OA is for the greater good. We have to get over the teething problems.

Obviously it is easier if funders are aligned. The UK pretty much has a national policy. Other funders – RCUK, HEFCE, Cancer Research UK and others – have similar approaches.

The biggest challenge is whether the OA author-pays market is fully functional. Earlier this year we were involved in research with Jisc and others that concluded that the hybrid market is dysfunctional. The average APC for a fully OA journal is around half that of the average APC of a hybrid, despite the subscription revenue that that hybrid also gets. The options from the report included don’t fund hybrid, which isn’t very attractive to the Wellcome Trust. Cell and the Lancet aren’t going to go OA overnight.

Another option is to make sure when an APC is being made at an institution that the institution gets a discount on subscriptions. That’s the option that RCUK is pushing and I think that model has some legs. Publishers like IOP have recently gone down that road. The challenge is that there are so many publishers that it would require lots of agreements.

We considered but quickly discounted the option to rank journals by the SNIP journal metric. We discounted this idea because we are not interested in the name of the journal but in the quality of the research.

There is also the option where a funder says to a researcher that we are happy to pay a certain amount for an APC, say $2k, then after that we will pay 50 per cent. This would instil some price sensitivity into the researchers - we give block grants to institutions so researchers aren’t really aware of the costs today - but there is the challenge of the sheer administration of this approach.

There are problems with the hybrid market. The other option is that we hope the market evolves but it is not evolving fast enough.

Further information