JISC10: Why your university should care about Open Access

Economic savings for institutions, citation increases for researchers, knowledge benefits for society…The argument for Open Access was made strongly in this session which featured new research on the cost savings universities could make, and the perspectives of a librarian and a vice-chancellor.

Neil Jacobs, JISC Programme Manager, Information Environment, kicked off the session with a brief overview of JISC’s position – that it supports ‘open’, whether that be data, standards, software science or access, but it does not do so naively or in all cases. It is, he said, a “guiding principle”.

Last year JISC published the Houghton report which demonstrated the economic case for Open Access publishing and Alma Swan has now followed up that work with a study that uses Houghton’s economic model to look at the economic implications of Open Access for four UK universities ranging in size with research income from £2m a year to £200m. She considered three types of OA: self-archiving in repositories (in parallel with subscription journals or using overlay services to provide quality control and editorial services); and Open Access journals.

She presented her findings, which showed that all four universities would make savings from a move to self-archiving in repositories while only the two smaller, less research-intensive universities would make cost savings from a move to OA via OA journals (those with a fee for publication). The ‘average’ university would make savings from all three kinds of OA with the highest savings from the repositories and overlay model. With a per article charge of £700 (the average fee is currently £1500 but can be as high as £250), no university would find itself worse off.

The economic case made, Deborah Shorley, Director of Library Services, Imperial College London, offered the cultural perspective, which is somewhat less clearcut. Although Imperial has had its own institutional repository since 2004, and the college is working towards a mandate for all publications to deposited, she admitted that take up has not been as high as she would like and there is significant opposition from some academics. Not only is it seen as more work, some do not even think it is a good idea. Shorley pointed out that many Imperial academics are on the editorial boards of important journals and so they may have a real conflict of interest, or may be involved in the scholarly societies. She suggested that the way forward is to treat the transition time to OA as a long, slow game and to focus on the early career researchers ho see it as the obvious, simple thing to do.

The University of Salford has had less trouble with recalcitrant researchers. Its Vice-Chancellor, Martin Hall, explained that the university has a proud research tradition but has slipped in the rankings and has a large research community hungry to regain its reputation. In response, Salford created an open repository (the 100th university in the world to do so which, he said, gleefully, was a gift to their communications team) and made deposit mandatory. For Hall, the benefits of OA are not so much about economic savings as the reputational benefits – citation rates go up, the university gets better known and academic staff find that their work is better known. On an ethical level, he argued that, as a public institution, the results of their publicly funded research should be freely available. As for making it happen, the decision and direction have to come from the top, he argued.

Despite the strong economic evidence provided by Alma Swan, the audience questions and discussion placed a greater emphasis on the importance of other drivers. Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network queries the sense of lumping cost savings in with efficiency savings as it is not clear how the latter can be realised.

Hall responded that it is important to realise the principles under which you go into OA: “you would do OA even if the cost of journal subscriptions came down to match the cost of OA”, while Shorley concurred that “we all get hung up o the money because we have to but it’s not just about money. It’s about access to information and we should not put any artificial barriers in the way. Nothing is free – good stuff, properly published, has to be paid for and the question is where and when.”

Swan added that if efficiency savings mean that researchers have more time to do research then that seems like a great idea.

1 thought on “JISC10: Why your university should care about Open Access

  1. Stevan Harnad

    There’s nothing ailing Imperial College that a Green Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate like University of Salford’s won’t solve, once Imperial adopts it.

    All the prima facie worries Deborah Shorley mentioned (“more work, editorial boards of important journals, conflict of interest, scholarly societies”) and more, have already been raised and answered many times over. Only a mandate can cure this “Zeno’s Paralysis.” Without one, OA will indeed continue to be “a long, slow game.”

    And lest there be any ambiguity about it: the economic argument for OA is valid for mandating Green OA self-archiving now, and will become valid for Gold OA publishing once we have reached universal Green OA. But economics is definitely not the primary rationale and motivation for OA: research access, usage, impact and progress is.

Comments are closed.