Tag Archives: RCUK

Notes on a new allocation model: year 6 of the RCUK Open Access policy

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And so a new year of the Research Council Open Access (OA) block grant begins. And this time we’ve thought harder than ever about how to manage the grant. It’s not straightforward, even when your institution’s grant exceeds £1m. This isn’t just us at Manchester – my peers at Oxford and Cambridge universities would probably say the same. The problem is that the grant isn’t enough to meet demand. I know it isn’t intended to, the Research Councils have been clear about that. From the launch of the policy they stated that the required compliance target after 5 years would be 75% of an institution’s funded output, and they’ve since confirmed their expectation that the compliance figures we report each year will be a mixture of Gold and Green OA (see Q2 in the post March 2018 FAQ).

‘First come, first served’

In the first year of the block grant we adopted a first come, first served approach to allocating the block grant. This worked well as our advocacy efforts raised awareness of the new policy requirements and funding was easily available for authors who wanted to engage with Gold OA. In subsequent years the demand for Gold OA grew quickly, as did hybrid OA options and the cost of Article Processing Charges (APCs). To what extent this demand grew out of a misplaced belief that Gold OA is the only route to policy compliance, I’m not sure, but some authors continue to query this with us, despite regular updates by email and face-to-face, as well as the information they receive from their publishers. Some authors also tell me that their publishers seem to be nudging them towards Gold OA, which I hope isn’t true but the continued suggestion, even after 5 years, is a cause for concern.

The Research Councils have a preference for Gold OA and I’ve aimed to support this, limiting intervention in the first 5 years so that we could provide a dataset demonstrating the behaviour of authors and publishers during this period. The Councils also stopped allowing researchers to request non-OA publication costs into grant applications at this time. So although the primary purpose of the block grant is for APCs, we made the decision to support colour charges and page charges from our block grant, to highlight these costs and the publishers levying them in our reporting. I also learned that the notion that Green OA is free OA is not always true when faced with requests for mandatory publication fees from publishers that don’t offer a Gold OA option, or at least a compliant Gold option (we call this ‘paid-for Green’). In common with other institutions we used a portion of our block grant to fund resources underpinning the service needed to support a new, centralised approach to managing OA from the first grant award. So technically the costs we’ve covered up to now extend beyond APCs, but we supplemented the block grant from institutional funds for 2 years, which effectively covered the cost we’d top-sliced for staffing.

From the outset we’ve signed up to and made use of various deals and options that discount the cost of APCs, to stretch the block grant that little bit further and to engage with publishers that have made efforts to explore sustainable and affordable OA models. We’ve done this on the basis of our current publication activity and the type of deal being offered. The credit we receive as part of some of the offsetting deals is a useful supplement to the block grant. We’ve also used Library funds to support the adoption of a couple of ‘read and publish’ type models, another way in which the institution has supplemented the block grant.

Despite all of this, our experience has shown us that the grant we receive doesn’t cover 12 months when we operate a first come, first served model. During the past couple of years we’ve had to inform researchers part way through the grant period that the allocation model has changed and that we’ve introduced stricter criteria. Some authors have accepted this blithely but others have expressed disappointment that their preferred OA route is not available to them. We’ve been keen to keep OA as straightforward as possible for our authors and so have decided to start the new grant year with strict criteria. We’ve had a brief trial run and believe that the criteria we’re adopting will help us keep within budget, achieving a fair balance of Gold and Green OA.

New eligible costs

I know that we have a responsibility to ensure our institution complies with the OA policy but over the past 5 years we’ve found that in some cases this is only technically possible via Gold OA due to Green OA embargo periods or licences. I find it hard to believe that the Research Councils would want us to use our limited funds to pay for Gold OA to achieve policy compliance. This certainly isn’t in the spirit of Finch. I’ve looked back at the advice relating to the Publisher’s Association decision tree included in the RCUK policy and believe that our new approach is in line with this guidance –

“When using the decision tree it should be noted that although our preference is for immediate, unrestricted open access (‘Gold’), we allow a mixed approach to Open Access, and the decision on which route to follow – gold or green – remains at the discretion of the researchers and their research organisations”.

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So for the first time we’re not starting the new grant year on a ‘first come, first served’ basis but instead we’ve agreed a new list of eligible costs.

  1. APCs for reputable fully OA journals (using DOAJ and OASPA as ‘quality assurance’ checks)
  2. Mandatory non-OA publication charges to publishers providing a Green OA option that complies with the policy
  3. APCs to publishers of hybrid journals that are supporting the transition to OA
  4. APCs to other publishers of hybrid journals if papers are funded by MRC and the Green OA embargo exceeds 6 months or if papers are dual-funded with Charity Open Access Fund partners
  5. APCs to other publishers of hybrid journals when a research director recommends Gold OA on the basis that a paper is ranked as 4*

The publishers that currently fall into ‘Category 3’ are:

  • American Chemical Society
  • Cambridge University Press
  • IEEE
  • IOP
  • Oxford University Press
  • The Royal Society
  • Sage
  • Springer Nature
  • Taylor & Francis
  • Wiley

Other publishers may think they have a deal that we should consider again as a sustainable and affordable option – if so, get in touch – I’m at the UKSG conference next week.

We’ve included the option for School-level Directors of Research to over-rule our decisions because we know that some of the highest quality research produced by our researchers is published in journals that don’t meet our main criteria. By doing this the strict approach we’re taking this year isn’t at odds with the University’s strategic objectives.

Easing challenges?

We’re starting the new grant year unsure of the amount of the award but no longer paying for staff costs and colour charges, and knowing that we have credit amounts from Wiley, Oxford University Press and (almost) unlimited Gold OA with Springer Nature (Springer Compact titles only) and IEEE. I’m hopeful this approach will be more straightforward for all involved and will ease budget management challenges throughout the year, as well as continuing to achieve high levels of OA, and we’ll be reviewing it after 6 months.

What we can’t guarantee is that all of our Green OA papers fully comply with the policy. I wonder if it’s actually possible to achieve 75% compliance given that the licence option set by some publishers doesn’t align with the policy requirement but we need the Research Councils to reflect on this as part of the policy review. In the meantime me and my colleagues will get on with the task in hand which, in case we forget it in the midst of this complexity, is to ensure free and open access to publicly funded research outputs.

University of Manchester’s RCUK Open Access 2016-17 report

The beginning of April marked the end of the fourth year of RCUK’s Open Access (OA) policy.  We submitted our finance and compliance report in May and have made our 2016-17 APC data available via the University’s institutional repository, Pure.

The headlines for us from this period are:

  • We have estimated 75% compliance for 2016-17 (54% Gold OA and 21% Green OA).
  • This is a significant increase in Green OA. In part this is due to the launch of HEFCE’s OA policy but it is also a consequence of the constraints of the block grant, ie, we have been unable to meet demand for Gold OA during the reporting period.
  • Despite the increase in Green OA, expenditure on Gold OA has not decreased. This is partly due to publishers that do not provide a compliant Green OA option but increased APC unit level costs are also a factor.
  • We have reported an 18% increase in the average APC cost in 2016/17 (£1869) against the 2015/16 average (£1578). To some extent this increase can be accounted for by foreign exchange rate differences.
  • Although we operate a ‘first come, first served’ model for allocating the block grant, it was necessary to impose restrictions for 3 months of this period. We limited expenditure to Pure Gold OA journals, non-OA publication fees and hybrid journals that do not provide a compliant Green OA option.
  • The level of Gold OA achieved has only been possible due to continued investment from the University (£0.2m) and credits/discounts received from publishers relating to subscription packages and offsetting deals (£0.1m).
  • We arranged Gold OA with 60 different publishers. Of these, we managed offsetting schemes and memberships with 11 and arranged Gold OA for only one paper with 20.
  • We continued to assess publisher deals to obtain best value from the block grant but are committed to engaging only with publishers that offer a reasonable discount and overall fair OA offer.
  • As in previous years, most APCs were paid to Elsevier (139), almost double the number paid to the next publisher, Wiley (75).
  • As in previous years, our highest cost APC (£4679) was paid to Elsevier.  The lowest cost APC (£196) was paid to the Electrochemical Society.
  • We reported expenditure of £72,297 on ‘other costs’.  This amount includes colour and page charges as well as publication fees associated with Green OA papers.
  • Despite reminders to authors that papers must be published as CC-BY, 8 papers were published under non-compliant licences and we were unable to identify licences for a further 16 papers.  We contact publishers to correct licences when we are aware of a non-compliant licence.
  • We continued to see engagement with Gold OA from Humanities researchers who produce outputs other than journal articles. We have supported Gold OA for one monograph and one book chapter during the reporting period, at a cost of £11,340 from the block grant.  A further monograph has been paid for from an institutional OA fund.
  • Despite a concerted effort on our part we continued to see inconsistency in the inclusion of grant acknowledgements on papers.  We act in good faith when approving payment from the block grant but believe a joined up approach from RCUK, institutions and publishers is needed to ensure all researchers are aware and fulfil this requirement consistently.
Tiger

Predatory publishers: who CAN you trust?

Open Access iconOne of our responsibilities as OA advisors at Manchester is to keep track of so-called predatory publishers, and advise our researchers on publishers they should avoid.  It can be hard to separate wheat from chaff, so we rely, where possible, on others helping to do this. Until recently, we recommended Jeffrey Beall’s list, a well-known directory maintained in the US.  However, we have now removed the link, and will no longer advise our colleagues to use it.  Here’s why …

Some of the work we do extends beyond Manchester and is about sharing our experience.  We are currently lead institution on opeNWorks, a Jisc-funded Pathfinder project which aims to share best practice with colleagues from the North West region who have limited experience of providing OA support for researchers and to develop a community of good OA practice.  The purpose of the community is to ensure that trusted advice and resources are easily accessible to institutions that are unable to fund a full-time OA support post.

If the resources and systems we have created are seen as examples of good practice then we’d like them to be representative of our views on OA and it is clear our views are not aligned with Beall’s.

On the basis of what we’ve read – the Berger and Cirasella article recently posted on the LSE Impact Blog provides a good overview and entry points – and what Beall seems to have said in his recent presentation at the US STM conference, here are a few points on which we differ.

Publishing costs

Let’s start simply.  There is a cost to publishing scholarly works.  We know this and we’ve had frank conversations with publishing colleagues on this issue.  In the subscription model authors (who may also be editors) tend to be unaware of the costs, and librarians are aware only of the costs to their own institutions.  What’s ethical about this lack of transparency?  It’s practically the OED definition of predatory (“unfairly competitive or exploitative”).

We’ve taken the recommendation of the Finch Group to heart and have shared the costs of publishing with University of Manchester authors as a first attempt to remedying this problem, telling them that the University spent a total of ~£5million on journal subscriptions in 2013-14 and informing individual authors of the cost of article processing charges (APCs) – added to which there may also be page, colour or submission charges, let’s not forget – paid on their behalf.  Most of the charges we’ve paid have been to publishers of subscription journals offering a hybrid gold option, along with most of the UK universities in receipt of OA grants from RCUK and COAF.  With even more money flowing from university libraries to large commercial publishers there’s a new chapter in the Serials Crisis – an urgent need for offsetting schemes to address the issue of double-dipping.  This work has already begun and we’re feeding into these discussions.   However, the models we’ve seen so far are early experiments that need further refinement to be truly ethical.

Tailoring advocacy

The Open Access team at The University of Manchester Library
The Gold Open Access team at The University of Manchester Library

OA advocacy is at the heart of our interactions with researchers and we tailor our message to audiences at a disciplinary level and to individual authors as required.  This is necessary to win the hearts and minds of researchers for whom subscription publishing is the cultural norm, or to encourage a new generation of researchers to confidently challenge the advice of their senior colleagues, who frequently fall into that first category.  And while we might repeat core messages, the effectiveness of our advocacy depends on the nuance, which requires the thinking that Beall sees as unnecessary.  We tell researchers about the OA publishing model, explain why they need to know (and as funded researchers and/or employees of a UK HEI they do need to know) and why they should care. The most effective message to some authors might be pragmatic (“you might jeopardise your chances of securing funding with a particular funding body if you don’t publish OA”) but we always include positive messages about extending readership and the public good.  I often relate the experience of researchers in other parts of the world with severely limited access to academic journals, based on the inspiring presentation I heard Erin McKiernan deliver at the 2014 SPARC OA meeting.

We find our advocacy activities most successful when we engage researchers in discussion based on our experiences of providing OA support, and this is as important for us as it is for the researchers because it allows us to understand the barriers to OA.  Mostly this is down to complexity of publisher workflows – traditional publishers that is – and remembering to choose an OA option.  We hear these concerns often, much more so than the questionable publishers Beall focuses on, and we respond to these concerns by participating in RLUK-led initiatives to engage publishers in discussions on the simplification of OA procedures or, at a local level, by reminding authors to make new papers OA, and we know that traditional publishers are also helping with this culture change.  This doesn’t mean that we are enemies of traditional publishers, as Beall might suggest, rather that their systems and workflows aren’t as intuitive for authors as they might believe, and the scale of support we provide to authors addressing problems relating to these publishers makes this a priority for us.

Supporting innovation

Support for OA in Word but not in Deed
Bizarre accusation of hypocrisy

But that’s not to say that we are simply reactionary in our approach to OA.  We do react, of course, to new funder policies, new publisher workflows, but we are also hugely supportive of new developments in scholarly communications, eg, JiscMonitor, ORCID, Altmetrics, and we are always interested in the emergence of new publishing models.  We have responded to requests from Manchester researchers who wish to publish RCUK-funded papers with PeerJ by setting up an institutional membership plan.  We are working in partnership with our colleagues at Manchester University Press, developing the Manchester Open Library imprint.  The latest journal in development is student-led and will operate a form of peer-review that MUP CEO, Frances Pinter, considers worthy of patenting.  We are also supporters of Knowledge Unlatched and the Open Library of Humanities, and are encouraged to see traditional publishers experimenting with OA monographs as the sector seeks a sustainable business model.  OA has created opportunities for experimentation and innovation in publishing, driven by energetic and passionate individuals.  There are too many to name but Martin Eve certainly deserves a mention after bizarrely being charged with hypocrisy in Beall’s STM presentation last week.

We don’t disagree with Beall on everything, eg, we don’t dispute the existence of questionable OA journals and publishers.  As fund managers for the University’s OA grants from RCUK and COAF we take our duty of care to authors and funders seriously.  Requests for APC payments prompt an extra Quality Assurance check in the publication process at Manchester which allows us to alert School Research Directors of submissions to journals of questionable reputation.  Our website advice also provides a checklist for authors to consider as part of their publication strategy and we’ll now focus on this type of guidance until a community-driven alternative to Beall’s list emerges.

Open Access 'One Way'

OAwe and wonder: a long year of open access

RCUK Report cover 2014Friday, 12 September marked the end of the first extended year of RCUK’s Open Access (OA) policy. There were some tense moments in the Research Services office as we put the finishing touches to our report before the high noon deadline. The data and compliance report we submitted includes details of the payments made from the block grant and full-text deposits in Manchester eScholar, our institutional repository. You can see the report and all supporting data in our institutional repository.

Prior to the launch of the RCUK policy we’d delivered campus-wide communications and we monitored publishing activity throughout the year. We’d had some very invigorating discussions with researchers about the pros and cons of OA and efficiencies in publication procedures and we monitored OA engagement throughout the year to see if they’d listened. We wondered which way authors would jump – Gold or Green? Would they choose different journals if their first choice wasn’t compliant with the policy? And how much more nudging would they need to change their established publishing behaviour? We continued our communication throughout the year, partly reminders of the policy and partly targeted messages to authors of non-OA RCUK-funded papers.

At final count we paid for 575 papers from the block grant and identified 59 Green OA papers. This total (634) represents 53% compliance. We estimate an overall compliance level of 65%, based on a sample of data from Web of Knowledge.

RCUK approved us spending part of the grant on an OA monograph and this was our highest charge – £6,500. Our highest Article Processing Charge (APC) was almost £4,200. Our average APC for Year One, not taking account of institutional discounts, works out at £1,510.

Looking to the year ahead

Open Access 'One Way'
Open Access: Green or Gold?

We wonder how strictly RCUK will define compliance after Year One? We know that 29% of Gold OA papers are not licensed as CC-BY and no Green OA papers are licensed as CC-BY-NC. We don’t know why this is because we don’t approve payments for journals that don’t offer CC-BY. In terms of Green compliance, we aren’t aware that publishers are offering CC-BY-NC as an option. The role of publishers in influencing licence choices and displaying licence information is something we hope RCUK will investigate more in Year Two – rather than penalising individuals whose papers aren’t correctly licenced this year. We’ve found that some publishers are willing and able to amend licences for RCUK-funded authors after publication on request but that others won’t.

We know that we haven’t changed culture entirely in Year One, but we’ve made some significant progress and have a solid foundation on which to build towards increased compliance with RCUK and HEFCE’s OA policies.