Clarification of the new open-access policy at the Research Councils UK (RCUK)

On July 25, 2012, I had a long, helpful phone conversation with Mark Thorley, convenor of the RCUK Research Outputs Network (RON), the group responsible for developing and implementing the RCUK Open Access policy.

I initially contacted him to talk about what I took to be important differences between the new RCUK policy <> and the Finch recommendations <>, especially on (1) embargoes, (2) open licenses, and (3) the role of green OA. I knew that the RCUK disbursed public funds but was independent of the government. I wanted to learn more about that independence, and in particular whether the RCUK felt free to depart from the Finch recommendations, especially after David Willetts, the UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, accepted <> all the major Finch recommendations on behalf of the UK government.

Although our call was long, time was short and we only had time to talk about embargoes and the role of green OA. After I wrote up my understanding, Mark and I revised it together, and I have his permission to publish this version.

1. First Mark pointed out that the RCUK participated in the Finch Group, and took the Finch recommendations into account when finalizing its own revised OA policy.

2. Mark didn't agree with me that the RCUK differed from the Finch Group on embargoes, open licenses, or the role of green OA. 

On embargoes, I pointed out that the RCUK demanded a six month embargo on green OA and that the Finch Group thought that any embargo shorter than 12 months was "unreasonable". In reply, Mark drew a distinction. The RCUK is justified in demanding a short embargo on green OA when it offers to pay for gold OA. On his reading, the Finch Group agrees with that position, and only calls short embargoes unreasonable when demanded by funders unwilling to pay for gold OA.

Note that if all public funders in the UK start offering to pay for gold OA, perhaps as a result of the RCUK policy and Finch recommendations themselves, then the same funders would be justified in demanding six month embargoes on green OA.

3. On the role of green, Mark said that the RCUK had the same preference for gold as the Finch Group. The reason is that they want libre OA under CC-BY licenses, for example to support text-mining and to enable immediate OA without any publisher imposed embargo. Requiring immediate libre green might hurt publishers, but paying for immediate libre gold would not. 

I pointed out that the RCUK was willing to distribute peer-reviewed research articles through repositories, while the Finch Group recommended repositories only for theses and dissertations, grey literature, data, and preservation. On his reading, the Finch Group may expect that the primary role for repositories will be for theses, grey literature, and data. But the Finch Group would definitely accept green OA for research articles when a journal offered no gold option.

According to Mark, the RCUK and Finch Group share this position: When publicly-funded researchers publish in a journal with a suitable gold option (where suitability is about its willingness to use a certain open license), then those authors should pursue that gold option. If the journal offers no suitable gold option but does offer a suitable green option (where suitability is about the maximum length of the embargo period), then grantees should pursue the green option instead. If a given journal offers no suitable gold or green option, then those researchers must look for another journal, one which complies with the RCUK policy. 

When a journal offers both suitable green and suitable gold options, the PI may choose the option he or she thinks most appropriate. At the same time, institutions will develop local policies to manage their publication funds, built on block grants from the RCUK and other sources, such as the Wellcome Trust, and these local policies may affect the PI's choice between green and gold. 

If a journal with a suitable gold OA option levies an Article Processing Charge (APC), then RCUK is willing to pay the APC. The RCUK will provide block grants to universities for paying APCs, which they will manage through the establishment of publication funds, and universities will decide how to spend the money to best deliver the RCUK policy. 

Because the RCUK is still working out the details of its mechanism for funding APCs, and hopes to announce more in September, Mark would not comment on the likely value of grants to universities. However, Mark concedes that managing a publication fund and establishing rules on what papers will be funded, will be a big challenge for many institutions, and obtaining faculty APC funding could be a major change of working for many authors. He also concedes that some faculty requests for APC funds might be rejected for non-budgetary reasons, for example, because a given journal appears to be a fraudulent operation or because a given author has already tapped into the fund too many times that year. But he was clear that these will be university decisions independent of any RCUK policy.

However, he added that journals offering a suitable gold OA option would probably not want to offer a compliant green option as well. Hence, as more journals start offering gold options to make themselves eligible for RCUK funding, many that permit green OA today may stop permitting green, or might only provide a green option with an embargo period to be too long to be compliant with the RCUK policy. Hence, authors turned down for APC funding may not have a green option to exercise at a given journal, even if those authors and their universities wanted to exercise it. 

I mentioned the rights-retention OA policies at funders like the Wellcome Trust and the NIH, and at universities like Harvard and MIT. He said that universities could always adopt a policy of that kind. Doing so, of course, would create a standing green OA option regardless of a journal's own publishing contract. On the one hand, he acknowledged that the RCUK policy is currently silent on rights-retention green OA mandates. On the other hand, referring to such policies at Wellcome and NIH, he added that "this might well be something we would consider in the future, but for the moment it is up to institutions to recognize the benefits of rights-retention in helping manage their intellectual property."

4. If there are differences between the RCUK policy and the Finch recommendations, they are minor. The RCUK will go forward with its current policy, and has no plans to revise it to conform more closely to the Finch report. 

5. Finally, note that the RCUK is using its blog <> to explain and discuss various aspects of its OA policy.

#oa #openaccess #rcuk  
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