All publicly funded scientific research will be made freely available by 2014 according to a government announcement to be made later today (16th July).
Universities minister David Willetts has said the free access to taxpayer-funded science research will take two years before it begins “fully feeding through”, but that there will be “massive” economic benefits to the scheme.
In an interview ahead of the announcement, Willetts told the Guardian: “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn't be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it."
His decision comes in response to the Finch report, made by Professor Dame Janet Finch, which strongly recommended journals should be classified as having "gold" open access status, which would help to protect the business models of journal publishers by using revenue from library budgets to fund science budgets. The alternative "green" open access classification allows researchers to make their papers freely available online after they have been accepted by journals.
Some academics the Guardian spoke to were critical that the transition—which could cost £50m—would not receive any extra funding by the government and would instead be funded from existing science budgets. Under the new scheme, authors will pay an "article processing charge" (APCs) of around to have their papers peer-reviewed, edited and made freely available online, instead of the bill for subscription fees—thought to be around £200m a year—being picked up by British universities.
Willetts said: “There is a genuine value in academic publishing which has to be reflected and we think that is the case for gold open access, which includes APC. There is a transitional cost to go through, but it's overall of benefit to our research community and there's general acceptance it's the right thing to do.
"We accept that some of this cost will fall on the ring-fenced science budget, which is £4.6bn. In Finch's highest estimation that will be 1% of the science budget going to pay for gold open access, at least before we get to a new steady state, when we hope competition will bring down author charges and universities will make savings as they don't have to pay so much in journal subscriptions," he added.
"The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded. I think there's a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget.”
Graham Taylor, director of education, academic and professional department at the Publishers Association, said that while Willetts had not yet laid out the detail of his response to the Finch report, it was positive news that the minister supported all but one of report’s recommendations. Finch’s suggestions about lowering VAT are currently sitting with the treasury, according to the Guardian article.
Taylor said: “The PA supports the findings of the Finch review, so if the government accepts all of Finch’s proposals apart from that specific point on VAT, then we are taking this positively, but we would like to hear more about what the minister has actually said. We would also like to hear what the Research Councils UK (RCUK) has to say in their policy, which is expected soon and is quite critical to implementing the Finch report. We would also like to point out that the figure quoted of £200m universities pay to publishers for subscriptions is actually more like £120m.”