The UK has made "substantial progress" towards ensuring Open Access publication of publicly funded research since the Finch Report was published in 2012, according to an independent advisory report to government from Professor Adam Tickell, chair of the Universities UK Open Access Co-ordination Group.
However the costs of publishing via Gold OA are rising steeply, with no decrease in subscription costs, Tickell noted, with the market dominated by a small number of large publishers causing a "distortion" in the market.
The report, put together for the universities minister Jo Johnson, said almost all journal articles published by UK university academics will be available via OA by April 2017, with approaching 20% of them freely available on the day of publication, figures higher than anywhere else in the world.
There has been "relatively little public discord" during the transition to OA, despite competing financial interests between the parties involved, Tickell noted, despite the fact that initial progress was slow "as a wide range of stakeholders were defensive about their material and perceived interests".
However Tickell found that the many stakeholders continued to "believe the current journal market is failing to operate optimally, particularly in relation to journal access and the cost of Gold OA", with the market dominated by a small number of large publishers. The report said it would be unfair simply to blame publishers for this concentration, since academics prefer to publish in high status journals and citation practices may favour such publications. However to avoid distortion in the market by privileging certain publication routes, universities should be encouraged to sign up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, requiring the use of metrics, Tickell said.
Meanwhile "financial challenges" around Gold OA remain, noted Tickell, saying: "Research for this report shows a consistent and steep increase in the average cost of purchasing Gold OA, without a commensurate fall in subscription costs." He also recommended clear service standards be established for publishers, saying he had heard "some concern raised by research funders about the quality of service received from publishers in return for Gold OA charges. The Wellcome Trust in particular has said that: 'We expect every publisher who levies an open access fee to provide a first class service to our researchers and their institutions [which] still
seems to be some way off.'
Exclusively Open Access publishers, such as Plos, and journals, such as e-Life (funded by the Wellcome), have had a "disruptive" effect "contributing to a transformation in science communication", Tickell said. "They are more likely to embrace innovative new technologies, approaches and business models…. It is essential that research funders and universities continue to support such developments," he argued.
The report recommended that Research Councils UK continued to support Gold Open Access charges, but that it exercise more flexibility in its favoured route, replacing the current UK "strong policy preference" for Gold into just a "preference for Gold." Supporting Green OA is pragmatically essential," the report noted.
The advisory report was greeted with enthusiasm by Jo Johnson, who said he was "encouraged by the positive progress" and "confident that, by 2020, the UK will be publishing almost all of our scientific output through open access."
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of The Publishers Association, said: “The detail behind the recommendations will need careful consideration but we look forward to continuing to work with the government and all other parties to ensure the UK’s successful approach remains best practice around the world.”
Sam Burridge, managing director for the Open Research business at Springer Nature, commented: “Open Access is thriving, and the UK government has taken a world-leading position in supporting open research. We welcome Professor Tickell’s report, and applaud the minister’s decision to hold fast to their commitment to open access. A national infrastructure roadmap for open data [one of the recommendations of the report] is a visionary step and Springer Nature are keen to collaborate with the community to make it happen.”