Open access and monographs

Open access and monographs

27 July 2018


In December 2016, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies signalled their intent to extend the open access (OA) requirements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to include long-form scholarly works and monographs in the exercise after REF 2021.

At the University Press Redux conference in February 2018 – an event that brings together experts on university press publishing – these plans triggered a lively debate. This led to Research England’s Director of Research, Steven Hill, confirming that further discussions and a consultation with the sector will be needed to develop policy details and finalise conditions.

Professor Martin Eve of Birkbeck, University of London, recently wrote that the four HE funding bodies are not moving quickly enough, and that clarity is urgently needed to understand how a policy for OA monographs will be implemented.

Are we ‘running out of time’?

Eve’s piece suggests that Research England and the three other UK HE funding bodies – the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council, the Northern Ireland Executive – are ‘running out of time’ to implement a policy for OA monographs.

The 2015 Crossick report makes it clear that policy development in this area should take appropriate time for engagement and consultation with the sector. What is important is we get the process and the policy right, recognising where there might be challenges while clearly communicating the benefits of OA to colleagues across the sector. A phased approach is an option. This would allow the sector time to implement appropriate processes and to reflect upon and share good practice.

Eve suggests four options that Research England and the other UK HE funding bodies could adopt in a move to OA monographs. One of the options is to withdraw the intention to mandate OA for academic books. The four funding bodies are firmly committed to delivering an OA policy for monographs in the REF after next. We believe that sharing new knowledge has enormous benefits for researchers, the wider HE sector, and the public.

The idea of a dedicated fund – which Eve has previously suggested could be top-sliced from quality-related (QR) funding – is not a sustainable long-term solution. There is no incentive for efficiency gains if we take this route and it does not encourage a fair ecology across different publishing models. Evidence from a 2017 UUK report shows that the average article processing charge (APC) for journals increased sixteen per cent within a three-year period, suggesting that there may be a correlation between direct funding for OA and increased charges.

Another option would be to ‘demand compliance’ from universities. We do not want to produce a policy that, to borrow the phrase used by Eve ‘loses friends and alienates people’. Instead, we should allow universities and scholars to explore a full range of business models. The world of OA books is diverse and innovative, often fostering collaborations between universities, publishers and service providers. There is no ‘one size fits all' model. 

Finally, Eve also suggests that we could explore a green route for monographs. Certainly, we should not restrict ourselves to just thinking about the gold OA route. Any policy in this area will be open to a range of models – a green OA model is particularly interesting for books due to the market for print versions alongside digital copies. Goldsmiths Press for example, favours the green route. As the UK’s first green OA monograph publisher, Goldsmiths combines OA with a ‘fair and varied pricing model for print books’.

Eve raises some pertinent points, particularly around issues of funding and the need to deliver a sector-wide consultation. We are continuing to explore these issues as we consider what a future policy might look like.

Moving towards OA for monographs

Research England’s policy intent is part of a much wider, global shift towards OA monographs.

The Austrian Science Fund first began mandating OA for scholarly publications including monographs ten years ago. Switzerland has recently implemented a mandate for OA books, a decision that was widely informed by a pilot project, called OAPEN-CH, to assess the impact of OA on scientific monographs in the country, which published its findings earlier this year. The project found that making digital copies of scholarly books freely available had no impact on the sales of print versions.

Just two weeks ago at the 2018 annual LIBER conference – an event run by the Association of European Research Libraries – the French Minister for Higher Education and Research and Innovation, Madame Minister Frédérique Vidal, unveiled a National Plan for Open Science. The plans will make OA mandatory when publishing articles and books resulting from government-funded calls for projects.

OA monographs have been a growing part of the OA landscape in the UK and abroad for some time. For example, University of Cambridge academics, Dr Rupert Gatti and Dr Alessandra Tosi, co-founded Open Book Publishers ten years ago. To date, it has published over 125 titles and has established itself as one of the leading presses of OA academic books in the UK. Ubiquity Press was established in 2012 as an OA publisher of peer-reviewed books and journals. UCL Press has also been publishing OA academic books since June 2015 – so far, it has published 80 titles which have been downloaded over one million times.

The Australian National University (ANU) Press was established in 2003. Australia’s first primarily electronic academic publisher, ANU is now a globally recognised leader in OA academic publishing, and has produced over 750 monographs to date. In 2014, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the University of North Carolina funding to create a suite of services to publish high-quality digital monographs via the distribution subsidiary Longleaf. In just four years, Longleaf has almost tripled in size, bringing presses together to provide savings, tools and efficiencies.

Larger presses such as Manchester University Press and Palgrave Macmillan offer OA for monographs and for individual book chapters. Contracted books can be converted to OA up until the manuscript enters production.

Next steps

Steps are being taken to further understand the specific challenges posed by stakeholder groups. Working with colleagues at Jisc, the AHRC and the British Academy (BA), Research England has recently appointed Fullstopp GmbH to collect and analyse data that will seek to answer a set of challenges and questions posed by sector representatives. The main aim of this work is to provide a robust evidence base that will be used to inform future policy decisions on OA. The UUK OA monograph working group has also recently published a report which provides an overview of the current open access landscape. It draws attention to significant activities in this area, highlighting OA initiatives from around the world.

We want excellent research of all kinds to be submitted to the REF. We will not, as the Royal Historical Society has suggested, ‘militate adversely’ against academic freedom to choose where a researcher’s work is published. This is not true for journal articles and it will not be true for academic books. As Hill pointed out in February 2018, we would expect any policy requirement to include ‘a wide range of possible exceptions’. We are committed to ensuring flexible arrangements for exceptions to the policy where books cannot reasonably meet OA requirements.

We recognise that monographs have a particular significance to scholars in the arts, humanities and the social sciences: they are complex, longitudinal pieces of work that represent years of research. Any policy should consider the lengthy processes that are involved in the research, writing and the publication of long-form outputs.

The blog can also be found on the Times Higher Education website.