RCUK 'learns lessons' from HoL criticism

Research Councils UK has said it has "learned lessons" after being accused of an "unacceptable" lack of clarity by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The Committee held an inquiry into RCUK's open access policy following complaints from publishers, academics and learned societies.

The RCUK had initially said the date of compliance for its new open access policy applied to all RCUK-funded research submitted for publication by 1st April. However Professor Douglas Kell, RCUK information champion, later contradicted this, telling the inquiry that there was in fact a five-year implementation phase.

The Committee's report said the confusion caused by this was "unacceptable", particularly given the nearness of the start date, and RCUK was told to clarify its guidance.

The Committee also said RCUK must hold a review of the effects of the policy in autumn 2014, examining whether different disciplines require different embargo periods, licences and primary models of publication. It should also examine whether the UK is moving in the same direction as other countries, whether article processing charges have adversely affected the number of international articles published in UK journals, and the effects
on the quality of peer review. The review must also assess the policy's impact on the number of collaborations by UK researchers and its effects on learned societies, said the Committee.

In addition, the report said: "The government should conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of the policy, in view of their stated preference for gold open access and..(it) should review the effectiveness of RCUK's consultation regarding this significant change in policy." It went on: "We commend RCUK's commitment to monitor international developments in open access—for example, whether gold is adopted by other countries—and willingness to amend its strategy accordingly. The government must co-ordinate with other countries on open access policies."

In response, RCUK said it welcomed the recommendations and would consider them carefully. "We acknowledge that communication and engagement around the policy, including its development, has been challenging despite trying to respond to the need to engage early on with a broad range of stakeholders," it said. "Lessons have been learned and we will continue to actively engage with the academic and publishing sectors as well as learned societies and other international stakeholders throughout the implementation period and beyond. This will allow us to address any immediate concerns as well as to
keep a watching brief on the implementation process."

It added that revised guidance taking into account the report's advice would be published soon.

Meanwhile Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet said the PA warmly welcomed the Committee's recommendation for clarification and looked forward to "closer engagement" with RCUK.