Thirty-seven per cent of UK-authored research articles were made freely available to the world immediately on publication last year, via Open Access, according to a report from Universities UK's Open Access Co-ordination Group.
Meanwhile a total of 53% of UK-authored research articles in 2016 were available after 24 months, the report, titled "Monitoring the Transition to Open Access", found.
The UK's totals far outweigh the global figures, which show just 24% of research freely available immediately and 32% after 24 months.
Professor Adam Tickell, chair of the Co-ordination Group, said: "The UK is well above global averages of Open Access publication and is at the forefront of a significant global movement which is fundamentally changing the way research is conceived, conducted, disseminated and rewarded." Stakeholders throughout the scholarly communications process, including academics, university leaders, funders and publishers, deserved thanks for their work on this, he said.
The report found overall spend on Article Processing Charges (APCs) rising, as well as APC prices, with the mean average APC payment rising from £1,699 in 2013 to £1,969 in 2016, a 16% rise. Expenditure on APCs is rising faster than expenditure on subscription, the report found. Tracking expenditure for a group of 10 universities and a sample of seven publishers, the expenditure on subscriptions rose 20% over the four-year period (from £13.4m to £16.1m), but expenditure on APCs rose fourfold, though from a much smaller base (from £689,000 to £2.7m). Total expenditure across subscription and APCs rose by nearly one third (from £14.1m to £18.8m).
Analysing the APCs paid by a sample of 11 higher education institutions from 2013 to 2016, Elsevier and Springer Nature had the largest share, with Springer Nature overtaking Elsevier in number of APCs in 2016 "representing its development and acquisition of Open Access titles, including those of BioMedCentral and Nature Publishing Group." But Elsevier was first in revenue: taking data from 38 institutions in 2016, the report found Elsevier had a 28.5% market share, Springer Nature 15.8% and Wiley 11.2%, meaning that between the three they accounted for over half the total revenue.
On learned societies, the report found that their "financial health remains sound in aggregate, though margins for publishing declined from 2011-2015", saying the researchers had found "no evidence of systemic risk to UK learned societies or their broader financial sustainability, whether from Open Access or other factors."
Commenting on the report, Publishers Association chief executive Stephen Lotinga said: "The UK is a leader in academic open access publishing and journal publishers have embraced the changes it has brought to the sector. Almost 40% of all UK academic output is now open access immediately, up from 12% in 2012.
"Journals are shifting away from charging to read articles and toward charging to publish them, and as a result we are seeing a rise in the number of institutions paying article publishing charges as well as in the number of open-access only and hybrid journals. The upshot is that more high-quality academic research is openly available for all.
"Open access is challenging the commercial model of journal publishing positively, but unauthorised access and piracy through sites like Sci-Hub - which bypass publisher paywalls – damages the whole academic ecosystem. Peer reviewed research is fundamentally important to our education system so it is vital that it is protected, and not undermined."