The institutions have spoken

The institutions have spoken

14 June 2018


Today, Research England released the results of a survey they ran in August last year in conjunction with the former RCUK, Wellcome and Jisc. Cambridge University was one of the 113 institutions that answered a significant number of questions about how we were managing compliance with various open access policies, what systems we were using and our decision making processes. Reading the collective responses has been illuminating.

As the Deputy Director, Scholarly Communication and Research Services at Cambridge University Library, I have oversight of the university’s management of - and compliance with - funder open access and research data management policies. My role is strategic because Cambridge recognises that this area represents a significant shift, and encompasses much more than simply compliance.

The report is full of detail, but there are a few points that stand out. First is, given 71% of HEIs reported that AAMs are deposited by a member of staff from professional services, it is safe to say the past six years since the Finch Report have not significantly changed author behaviour. With 335 staff at 1.0 FTE recorded as “directly engaged in supporting and implementing OA at their institution”, it is clear that this is a highly resource hungry endeavour.

Indeed, these policies seem to be further underlining the limited reward systems we currently use in academia. While “the intent of funders’ OA policies is to make as many outputs freely available as possible”, institutions are focusing on the outputs that are likely to be chosen for the REF (as opposed to making everything available).

I suspect this is ideology meeting pragmatism. The first conclusion of the report was that “systems which support and implement OA are largely manual, resource-intensive processes”. The report notes that compliance checking tools are inadequate partly because of the complexity of funder policies and the labyrinth that is publisher embargo policies. It goes on to say the findings “demonstrate the need for CRIS systems, and other compliance tools used by institutions be reviewed and updated”.

This may be the case, but buried in that suggestion is years of work and considerable cost. I know from experience. It took Cambridge 2.5 years and a very significant investment to link the CRIS system to our repository. And we are still not there in terms of being able to provide meaningful reports to our departments. Who is paying for all of this?

We really need to focus on sector solutions rather than each institution investing independently. Indeed, the second last conclusion is that ‘the survey has demonstrated the need for publishers, funders and research institutions to work towards reducing burdensome manual processes”. One such solution, which has a sole mention in the report, is the UK Scholarly Communication Licence as a way of managing the host of licences.

However, what is imperative to keep in mind when reading the report is that compliance with a policy is not the end goal of a policy in itself. While clearly the UK policies over the past five years have increased the amount of UK research that is available open access, we do need to ask ourselves ‘so what?’. What we are not measuring, or indeed even discussing, is the reason why we are doing this.

Open access compliance is expensive and complicated, as this survey amply demonstrates. It would be enormously helpful to those responsible for ‘selling’ the idea to our research community if there were some evidence to demonstrate the value in what we are all doing. A stick only goes so far.