RCUK's lack of OA clarity is 'unacceptable', says House of Lords

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The UK's House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has criticised Research Councils UK (RCUK) for failures in communicating its open-access (OA) policy. The report says the previous lack of clarity about RCUK’s policy and guidance was ‘unacceptable’.

The report welcomes RCUK’s recent clarification that it will gradually phase in its OA policy over a five-year implementation phase. It recommends that RCUK update its policy guidance and all its communications to reflect the anticipated 'journey to compliance' and its flexibility over embargo periods.

It also says that, given the widespread confusion over the policy, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills must review the effectiveness of RCUK’s communication about OA to ensure that lessons are learnt.

The Committee calls for the impact of OA to be monitored, both at fixed review points and throughout the implementation period.

It asks that RCUK's autumn 2014 review considers:

  • Whether different disciplines require different embargo periods, licenses and primary models of publication
  • Whether the UK, in stating a preference for gold OA, is moving in the same direction as other countries that are mandating OA (but not necessarily the gold route)
  • Whether article processing charges have adversely affected the number of international articles published in UK journals
  • The effects on the quality of peer review
  • The impact on the number of collaborations by UK researchers
  • The effects on learned societies

Lord Krebs, chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee commented:

'RCUK did not consult or communicate effectively with key stakeholders in the publishing and academic communities when implementing its open access policy. While we are delighted that our inquiry has shown that RCUK are proposing to phase in their open access policy during the initial five-year implementation phase, this should have been made clear much earlier. That is why we call upon the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to review how RCUK communicated this important change.

'There are still many unknowns concerning the impact of the open access policy, which is why RCUK must commit to a wide ranging review of its policy in 2014, 2016 and before it expects full compliance in 2018. We heard significant concern about the policy’s "one-size-fits-all" approach, and are pleased that RCUK are both aware of these concerns and prepared to act on them.

'Open access is an inexorable trend. The Government must ensure that in further developing our capabilities to share research they do not inadvertently damage the "complex ecosystem" of research communication in the UK.'