Tag Archives: HEFCE

Are we achieving our OA goals?

This post was written for Hindawi for Open Access Week and published by them on 28 October. It is reposted here.

Recently I spent a day in two consecutive weeks travelling to London to meet with colleagues to discuss the implementation of the Wellcome Trust (COAF) and RCUKOpen Access policies. In both cases the discussions were centred on compliance with their policies.

Certainly it makes sense that a funder should ensure that its policies are being implemented properly. But this focus on compliance raises the more fundamental question about whether we are actually achieving the underlying goal of these policies – which is to open up access to UK research so more people can access, read and use this work.

After all, having huge swathes of research in repositories under embargoes* or spending literally millions of pounds annually to make particular articles in subscription journals available open access is not in itself the end goal.

We should be taking stock. Have the past three and a half years of the RCUK and over a decade of the Wellcome Trust policies meant our researchers are more engaged in open access? Has there been a movement by publishers towards flipping their journals? Indeed, is UK research being read and used more now? These are very pertinent questions that simply do not appear to be discussed at the moment.

*Cambridge has managed to address this issue by providing a Request a Copy button – see here.

Big bucks

There is a lot of money in this ecosystem. Cambridge University has been allocated £1,269,318.59 by RCUK in the 2016-2017 year, and have a £403,138 underspend which will be directed to this year’s Open Access activities. In addition Wellcome Trust have allocated us £902,243.

So Cambridge University has £2,574,699.59 allocated by funders to pay for Open Access APCs and related staff and systems costs (we recently made all of our expenditure available). Cambridge University spends about £4.8 million annually on subscriptions, so the cost for Open Access at our institution is over half of our subscription cost.

These are serious amounts of money. Surely it is a good idea to ask whether this process is actually achieving what it set out to do.

So what has actually happened?

Embargo changes

The RCUK Open Access policy has allowances for green Open Access with a sufficient embargo period and the decision tree at the Office of Scholarly Communication reflects the actual wording and rules of the policy – that is choose green options if you can. However the emphasis of RCUK is decidedly towards gold Open Access – see their decision tree which is actually slightly misleading.

So when the RCUK announces a policy where cash for article processing charges will flow to publishers dependent on embargo periods, what happens? The embargo periods lengthen.

According to a study published this year “What does ‘green’ open access mean? Tracking twelve years of changes to journal publisher self-archiving policies” (Open Access version here) there is “a clear link between the introduction of Gold open access and the increasing restrictions around Green open access”. The study also includes a graph mapping embargo periods over time which shows a very clear and defined ‘Finch effect’.

This was entirely predictable. When the RCUK Open Access policy was announced in response to the Finch Report I wrote (in my previous role) “Clearly it is advantageous for journals to offer a hybrid option and to extend their embargo periods in response to this policy.” And they did.

Springer and Emerald both extended their embargoes beyond the RCUK limits. (Of course Springer has since redeemed itself by experimenting with new business models).

Those embargo extensions were particularly galling at the time for me because they were worldwide and affected everyone – including in Australia, where I was based. Other publishers have responded to the RCUK rules by creating particular embargoes for UK authors. Elsevier is a clear example.

Institutional pressure

About the time the RCUK policy came into force I wrote about the difficulty of anyone staying up to speed on copyright agreements. Since then it has got worse. At Cambridge we do not expect our researchers to try and wade through this – we provide a service to help them. But this means staff and that costs money.

The pressure on research institutions to manage the UK Open Access policies is significant. Analyses of the total cost of publication (Open Access version here) associated with the administration of making research open access show a huge staffing load. The cost of processing a gold Open Access article was shown to be 2.5 times that for the processes of making an article available in a repository.

The RCUK do allow some of their block grant to be spent on staffing and infrastructure. At Cambridge we have reported that we spent 4.6% of the year’s allocation on staff costs and 5.1% on systems support. The general understanding is that RCUK don’t want the total spend on these costs to be more than 10% of the grant and it appears some institutions have spent more than this in previous years.

This highlights the overall lack of funding for support costs for managing Open Access. There are no specific funds for managing the HEFCE Open Access policy, or the COAF policies. While both the Wellcome Trust and HEFCE provide considerable funds to UK institutions for research, this is not directed to the Libraries. Certainly at Cambridge there is a robust process required to argue for funds to support these types of activities.

The 2012 Finch Report talked about a “transition to open access” and acknowledged that this will mean additional costs. Certainly the funders have channelled significantly more funds to publishers through the institutional block grants, and those institutions are having to channel internal resources to support the staff supporting the policies.

But the Finch Report also mentioned “seeking efficiency savings and other reductions in costs from publishers and other intermediaries”. It is safe to say that this has yet to actually occur.

Taking stock

So, more than four years on from the Finch Report, are we any closer to full Open Access? The answer is yes in the UK – because we have poured millions of extra (taxpayers’) pounds into the system. But if the RCUK policy were to end tomorrow, would the publishing landscape be any different? Has any other country in the world followed this model?

And are the Open Access policies achieving their end goal? Is UK research more visible in the world now? Are people actually finding these articles? Is it being read more?

Is anyone even asking these questions? Who is monitoring this? If we don’t ask and measure these parameters we will never know.

What we do know is we have extended embargo periods, forcing funded researchers down the gold Open Access path, which is more expensive to process in terms of staff time. We have spent millions, the majority of which is spent in hybrid journals – which is itself another issue. And there is little if any evidence that publishers are moving towards fully Open Access models.

A glimmer

Unfortunately the discussions held recently about the Wellcome Trust and RCUK policies were solely focused on compliance. This has become the narrative in the Open Access space in the UK and does nothing to help ‘sell’ the idea of Open Access.

Indeed it would be hugely helpful if there were communication about the underlying goals of these policies and whether they are being met. But the lack of monitoring of these goals means we have nothing to say. We can’t communicate what we don’t know about.

There is some hope. At least one publisher is interested in whether this is making a difference. At the Frankfurt Book Fair last week I attended a discussion of the German Serials Interest Group where a colleague from Springer said that Springer is assessing the success or otherwise of the Springer Compact. They had specifically compared the readership of Open Access articles against subscription only articles. According to this work, the percentage of non-institutional affiliated people reading the Open Access articles was dramatically higher than the subscription-only.

This type of information is hugely valuable to Open Access advocates, and I am hoping that Springer will release these findings publicly.

The team at the Office of Scholarly Communication strongly believe that all Cambridge research should be available, and we are working hard towards that goal (recently celebrating 10,000 submissions to the repository). It would help us enormously if we could offer evidence to our community of the value and benefits of this effort.

Published 3 November 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley

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Request a copy: uptake and user experience

This post looks at the University of Cambridge repository  ‘Request a copy’ service from the user’s perspective in terms of uptake so far, feedback we have received, and reasons why people might request a copy of a document in our repository. You may be interested in the related blog post on our ‘Request a copy’ service, which discusses the concept behind ‘Request a copy’, the process by which files are requested, and how this has been implemented at Cambridge

Usage Statistics

The Request a Copy button has been much more successful than we anticipated, particularly because there is no actual ‘button’. By the end of September 2016 (four months after the introduction of ‘Request a copy’), we had received 1120 requests (approximately 280 requests per month), the vast majority of which were for articles (68%) and theses (28%). The remaining 4% of requests were for datasets or other types of resource. We are aware that this is a particularly quiet time in the UK academic year, and expect that the number of requests will increase now term has started again.

Of the requests for articles during this period, 38% were fulfilled by the author sending a copy via the repository, and 4% were rejected by clicking the ‘Don’t send a copy’ button. However, these figures could be misleading as a number of authors have also advised us that they have entered into correspondence with the requester to ask them for further information about who they are and why they are interested in this research. Eventually, this correspondence may result in the author emailing a copy of the paper to the requester, but as this happens outside the repository, it does not appear in our fulfilment statistics. Therefore, we suspect the figure for accepted requests is in actual fact slightly higher.

Of the articles requested during this period, 45% were yet to be published, and 55% were published but not yet available to those without a subscription to the journal. The large number of requests made prior to publication indicates the value of having a policy where articles are submitted to the repository on acceptance rather than publication – there is clearly interest in accessing this research among the wider public, and if they are able to make use of it rather than waiting during the sometimes lengthy period between acceptance and publication, this can make the research process more efficient.

Author Survey

To find out why authors might not be fulfilling requests through the repository links, Dr Lauren Cadwallader, one of our Open Access Research Advisors, sent a survey on 6 July 2016 to the 113 authors who had received requests but had not clicked on the repository link or been in touch with repository staff to advise of an alternative course of action. This survey had a 13% response rate, with 15 participants, as well as eight email responses from users who provided feedback but did not complete the survey.

The relatively low response rate is indicative of either a lack of engagement with or awareness of the process – it is possible that the request emails and survey email were dismissed as spam, or that researchers were unable to respond due to an already heavy workload. One way of addressing this could be to include some information about ‘Request a copy’ in our existing training sessions, in particular to emphasise how quick the process can be in cases where the author is happy to approve the request without needing any further information from the user. We have also been developing the wording of the email sent to the author, to explain the purpose of the service more clearly, and to make it sound like a legitimate message that is less likely to be dismissed as spam.

Of the 15 people who participated in the survey, the majority were aware that they had received an email, which shows that lack of response is not always due to emails being lost in spam filters. When asked for the reason why they did not fulfil the request via the repository link, 35% of authors replied that they had emailed the requester directly, either to send the file, to request more information, or to explain why it was not possible for them to share the file at this time. This finding is quite positive, as it indicates that over a third of these requests are indeed being followed up. Although it would be helpful to us to be able to keep track of approvals through the system, at least this means that the service is fulfilling its purpose in providing a way for authors to interact with other interested researchers, and to share their work if appropriate. In fact, one of the aspects that participants liked best about the ‘Request a copy’ service was the ability to communicate directly with the requestor.

Two authors did not respond to the request because the article was available elsewhere on the internet, such as their personal / departmental website, or a preprint server (where the restrictions relating to repositories do not apply), although they did not communicate this to the requestor. In these cases, it is definitely positive that the authors are happy to share their work; however, it does show that there is often an assumption among researchers that people interested in reading their articles will be restricted to those already in their specific disciplinary communities.

Requests from people who are unaware of sites where the research might also be made available demonstrates that there is indeed an appetite among those outside of academia, or from different subject areas. This is generally a really positive thing, as it facilitates the University’s research outputs to educate and inspire a new audience beyond the more traditional communities, and could potentially lead to new collaboration opportunities. To ensure that requestors are able to access the material, and that researchers are not bombarded with requests for documents that are already freely available, authors can provide links to any external websites that are hosting a preprint version of the article, and we will add them to the repository record.

Other responses indicated that we were not necessarily emailing the right person, as participants said that they had not approved the request because they were not the corresponding author, or because they thought a co-author had already responded. At the outset of the service, we felt that emailing as many authors as possible would increase the likelihood of receiving a response; however, the survey results show that it would be better to send requests to the corresponding author(s) only, at least in cases where it is clear who they are.

An issue we have encountered on a semi-regular basis since HEFCE’s Open Access policy came into force is that of making an article’s metadata available prior to its publication. Although HEFCE and funder policies state that an article’s repository record should be discoverable, even if the article itself must be placed under embargo based on publisher restrictions, there is concern among some authors that metadata release breaches the publisher’s press embargo. You can read about this issue in some detail here.

Receiving requests for an article via the ‘Request a copy’ service can be unsettling for authors as it demonstrates how easily the repository record can be accessed, and rather than respond to the request, they contact the Open Access team to ask for the metadata record to be withdrawn until the article is published. This demonstrates a need to communicate more clearly, both on our website and within the ‘Request a copy’ pages in the repository, what is required of authors as part of HEFCE and funder Open Access policies. We will also be more explicit in the ‘Request a copy’ emails sent to authors in stating that sharing their articles via this service will not be seen as a breach of the publisher’s embargo. In cases where the author does not wish to disseminate their article before it is published, they have the option to deny any requests they receive.

Facilitating requests

There have been several instances where press interest around an article at the point of publication has generated a large number of requests, each of which must be responded to individually by the author. This has resulted in several authors asking that we automatically approve every request rather than forwarding them on. Unfortunately this is not possible for us to do, due to the legal issues surrounding ‘Request a copy’.

It is perfectly acceptable for an author to send a copy of their article to an individual, but if a repository makes that article available to everyone who requests it before the embargo has been lifted, this would be a breach of copyright because it would be ‘systematic distribution’. While responding to multiple requests is likely to be seen as an annoyance by an already overstretched researcher, we hope that a large volume of requests will also be viewed in a positive light, as it demonstrates the interest people have in their work.

Use cases

An interesting example of a request we received was actually from one of the authors of the article, as they did not have access to a copy themselves. This raises some questions about communication between the researchers in this case, if the ‘Request a copy’ service was seen to be a better way of gaining access to the author’s own research, rather than contacting one of their co-authors.

A more surprising use case is that of a plaintiff who had lost a legal case. The plaintiff was requesting an as-yet unpublished article that had been written about the case, because the article appears to argue in favour of the plaintiff and could potentially inform a future appeal. This is a good example of how the ‘Request a copy’ service could be of direct benefit in the world outside academia.

Although the vast majority of requests have been for research outputs such as articles, theses and datasets, we also occasionally receive requests for images that belong to collections held in different parts of the University, where high-quality versions are stored in the repository under restricted access conditions. With these requests, it can be more difficult to find who the copyright-holder is, which sometimes requires detective work by the repository team. In one case, permission had to be sought from a photographer who only has a postal address, and therefore required more explanation about the repository more generally, as well as the specific request.

Looking to the future

We will use this research and any further feedback we receive to improve the experience of our ‘Request a copy’ service for both authors and requestors, including implementing the ideas suggested above. Usage statistics will continue to be monitored, and we may run a user survey again to determine how far the service has improved, as well as to identify any new issues.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about our ‘Request a copy’ service, either as an author or a requester (or both), please send us an email to support@repository.cam.ac.uk .

Published 7 October 2016
Written by Sarah Middle
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Milestone – 10,000th article processed by OA Service

The Open Access Service at Cambridge has received its 10,000th Open Access submission – highlighting its commitment to making research freely available to anybody who wants to access it, without publisher paywalls or expensive journal subscriptions.

Through open access our research can reach a worldwide audience.

Nita Forouhi

The 10,000th submission, reporting on the impact of eating a Mediterranean diet on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in a UK population, was deposited by Signe Wulund at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, on behalf of Dr Nita Forouhi, Programme Leader in Nutritional Epidemiology at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, and several co-authors.

The Open Access movement has been growing in strength in academia for many years, and it is increasingly being mandated by funding bodies and government.

Dr Forouhi said: “Through open access our research can reach a worldwide audience. It would be a huge pity if interested researchers, practitioners or policy makers could not read about new research, such as our latest findings on the link between the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular health in a non-Mediterranean setting, because of something as simple as lacking a journal subscription.

“Open access enables wider dissemination of research findings, and in turn, facilitates better research and evidence-based policy and clinical practice.”

The Cambridge Open Access Service was established within the University Library in 2013 in response to Research Councils UK (RCUK) making Open Access mandatory for anyone accepting their funding. Many other major funders, including the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, have similar policies.

In 2014, the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced that Open Access would be compulsory for any article included in the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise. This policy came into force on April 1, 2016, effectively meaning that all research in UK institutions now has to be made freely available.

Since its inception in 2013, the Open Access service has processed 10,000 manuscripts, across all University faculties and departments and worked with 3,000 different members of staff. 6,000 of the papers were covered by the HEFCE open access policy; 4,000 acknowledged RCUK funding and 1,900 COAF (many papers fall into multiple categories, and some into none). More than £5.4 million of Open Access grants from funding bodies have also been distributed.

Meeting these requirements is a major task for the University, and one it has tried to make as simple as possible for researchers. Authors are simply required to upload their manuscript to www.openaccess.cam.ac.uk when it’s accepted for publication, and the Open Access team advise them on what they need to do to comply with funder requirements, eligibility for any funding body grants, and handle depositing the article into Apollo, the University’s institutional repository.

Ten thousand manuscripts have now been received in this way, and the vast majority of them have been able to be made Open Access, free for anyone who wants to read and benefit from them.

The 10,000th article was: ‘Prospective association of the Mediterranean diet with cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and its population impact in a non-Mediterranean population: the EPIC-Norfolk Study’ in BMC Medicine. [DOI:10.1186/s12916-016-0677-4]

The Open Access team at the University of Cambridge is part of the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC), within the University Library. As well as assisting researchers with Open Access and Open Data compliance, it advises on scholarly communication tools, techniques, policies and practices, and provides training.

This story originally appeared on the University of Cambridge Research news pages.

Published 05 October 2016
Written by Dr Philip Boyes
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