Cambridge RCUK Block Grant spend for 2016-2017

Much to our relief, last Friday we sent off our most recent report on our expenditure of the RCUK Block Grant fund. The report is available in our repository. Cambridge makes all of its information about spend on Open Access publicly available. This blog continues on from that describing our spend from 2009 – 2016, and from the blog on our open access spend in 2014.

Compliance

We are pleased to be able to report that we reached 80% compliance in this reporting period, up from 76% last year. The RCUK is expecting 75% compliance by the end of the transition period on 31 March 2018, so we are well over target.

According to our internal helpdesk system ZenDesk, our compliance is shared between 52% gold (publication in an Open Access journal or payment for hybrid Open Access), and 28% green (placement of the work into our institutional repository, Apollo). We do not have the breakdown of how many of the gold APC payments were for hybrid. In the past it we have had an overall 86.8% spend on hybrid.

Not only do we have an increase from 76% to 80% in our compliance rates overall, this is even more impressive when we consider that this is in the face of a 15% increase in the number of research outputs acknowledging RCUK funding. Web of Science indicated in a search for articles, reviews and proceedings papers that Cambridge published 2400 papers funded by RCUK in 2016. In 2015 Web of Science the same search counted 2080 RCUK funded research outputs.

Headline numbers

  • In total Cambridge spent £1.68 million of RCUK funds on APCs (this is up from £1.28 last year)
  • 1920 articles identified as being RCUK funded were submitted to the Open Access Service, of which 1248 required payment for RCUK*
  • The average article processing charge was £1850 – this is significantly less than the £2008 average last year, reflecting the value of the memberships we have (see below)

*Note these numbers will differ slightly from the report due to the difference in dates between the calendar and financial years (see below).

Non APC spend

In total Cambridge spent £1.94 million of RCUK funds in this reporting period, of which £1.68 million was on APCs.  Approximately 13% was spent on other costs,  primarily distributed between staffing, infrastructure and memberships.  The greatest proportion is staffing, with £95,000 spent on this cost. Memberships were the next largest category, mostly arrangements to reduce the cost of APCs, including:

  • £42,000 on the open access component of the Springer Compact
  • £22,000 on memberships to obtain discounts – there is a list of these on the OSC website
  • £18,000 on the University’s SCOAP3 subscription

The RCUK fund has also supported the infrastructure for Open Access at Cambridge, with £62,000 covering the cost of several upgrades of DSpace and general support for the repository. This has allowed us to implement new services such as the minting of DOIs and our hugely successful Request a Copy service which allows people to contact authors of embargoed material in the repository and ask them to send through the author’s accepted manuscript. This category also covers our license for our helpdesk system, ZenDesk, which helps the Open Access team manage the on-average  responses to 60 queries a day. We are also able to run most of our reporting out of ZenDesk.

There are some other smaller items in the non APC category, including £1500 on bank charges that for various reasons we have not been able to allocate to specific articles.

Are these deals good value?

Some are. The Springer Compact is shown as a single charge in the report with the articles listed individually. The RCUK Block Grant contributed £46,020 to the Springer Compact and 128 Cambridge papers were published by Springer that acknowledged RCUK funding. This gives us an average APC cost per paper to the RCUK fund* of £359.53 including VAT. This represents excellent value, given that the average APC for Springer is $3,000 (about £2,300).

*Note that in some instances the papers acknowledging RCUK may also have acknowledged COAF in which case the overall cost for the APC for those papers will be higher.

Cambridge has now completed a year having a prepayment arrangement with Wiley. Over this time we contributed £108,000 to the account and published 68 papers acknowledging RCUK. This works out that on average the Wiley APC cost was £1,588 per paper. Like Springer, the average APC is approximately £2,300 so this amount appears to be good value.

However the RCUK has contributed a higher proportion to the Wiley account than COAF because at the time the account was established we had run low on COAF funds. Because the University does not provide any of its own funds for Open Access, there was no option other than to use RCUK funds. We will need to do some calculations to ensure that the correct proportion of COAF and RCUK funds are supporting this account. It is a reflection of the challenges we are facing on a rolling basis when the dates are fluid (see below).

It appears we need to look very closely at our membership with Oxford University Press. We spent £44,000 of RCUK funds on this, and published 22 articles acknowledging RCUK funding. This works out to be an APC of £2000 per article, which is not dissimilar to an average OUP APC, and therefore does not represent any value at all. This is possibly because our allocation of the expense of the membership between COAF and RCUK might not reflect what has been published with OUP. We need to investigate further.

Caveat – the date problem

We manage Open Access funds that operate on different patterns. The COAF funds match the academic year, with the new grants starting on 1 October each year.  The RCUK works on a financial year, starting on 1 April each year. Many of our memberships and offset deals work on the calendar year.

To add to the confusion, the RCUK is behind in its payments, so for this current year which started on 1 April 2017, we will not receive our first part-payment until 1 June. That amount will not cover the commitments we had already made by the end of 2016, let alone those made between 1 April when this year started and the 1 June when the money is forthcoming. This means we will remain in the red. Cambridge is carrying half a million pounds in commitments at any given time. The situation makes it very difficult to balance the books.

Our recent RCUK report covers the period of 1 April 2016 – 31 March 2017 and refers only to invoices paid in this period. In the report the dates go beyond the 31 March 2017 because the reconciliation in the system sometimes takes longer, so items are logged as later dates even though the payment was made within the period. The publication dates for the articles these invoices relate to are wildly different, and many of these have not yet been published due to the delay between acceptance and publication which ranges from days to years.

This means working out averages is an inexact science. It is only possible to filter Web of Science by year, so we are only able to establish the number of papers published in a given calendar year. This set of papers is not the same set for which we have paid, but we can compare year on year and identify some trends that make sense.

Published 22 May 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley

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