Academics revolt over open access

Eleven leading academic associations have written an open letter condemning the government's plans for open access publishing as a “rushed policy” which poses a real threat to the “international standing of British Universities and research”.

The letter, signed by groups such as The Royal Historical Society, the Political Studies Association and the Council for the Defence of British Universities, and reproduced below in full,  called open access a "fundamental revolution" in academic life and expressed fears about the publication of papers now falling to university administrators.

The letter said: “As the leaders of a diverse group of learned societies, charitable organisations that exist to promote our respective academic disciplines, we support the idea of more open access to academic research.  There are, however, a number of problems with the rushed policy.”

The bodies blamed lack of consultation on the policy and said the "author processing charge" institutions will now pay to publish their academics' work increased financial burden on British universities. The letter also argued that the policy had been formed in response to the science, technology and engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and more consultation and “far fuller scrutiny” was needed by the government for the social sciences, arts and humanities (HSS) sector.

“We are glad that both the BIS Select Committee in the Commons and the Science and
Technology Committee in the Lords are now holding inquiries into the Government’s open access policy,” the letter said. “However, with no requirement for legislation, the Department is not bound in any way to take note of the reports of either inquiry. Hence we write to alert readers to this situation.  There are alternative routes to open access, but these too require close attention to their potential impact on the full range of disciplines.  We urge the government to work with us to develop a policy that will open access without sacrificing academic freedom or academic quality.”

Professor Howard Hotson, a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, who sits on the steering council for the Council for the Defence of British Universities, told the Guardian  that he was "flabbergasted" by the appetite of the coalition government to "pursue multiple radical changes simultaneously."

“It seems extraordinarily naive to suppose that on the basis of a few months of consultation, in a very short space of time, you can radically change the basic way in way academics communicate with each other without having a huge number of unintended knock-on consequences," he said.

Universities minister David Willetts has said that research papers on work subsidised by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals anywhere in the world and will mean costs of publication will fall on universities, which will pay "author processing charges" each time they have work from their academics published.

However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said important change was "always going to raise questions" and added Willetts would be giving an update to parliament next week.

A spokesperson said: "The academic publishing world is changing fast all over the world and it is essential that the interests of UK researchers, publishers and taxpayers are all taken into account as that change occurs."
 
The letter was signed by:
Professor Charlie Jeffery, Chair, Political Studies Association
Professor Peter Mandler, President, Royal Historical Society
Professor Stephen Hutchings, President, British Association for Slavonic and East European
Studies
Dr Graham Harvey, President, British Association for the Study of Religions
Dr Michael Brady, Director, British Philosophical Association
Professor Roy Gibson, Chair of Council, Classical Association
Professor Miranda Fricker, Director, Mind Association
Professor Thomas Schmidt, Chair, National Association for Music in Higher Education
Professor Andrew Beer, Chair Regional Studies Association
Professor John Beath, Secretary-General, Royal Economic Society
Professor Jill Jameson, Chair, Society for Research into Higher Education

 

The full letter can be viewed here.