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ARC poised to join open-access movement

Plans afoot to follow NHMRC’s lead after consultation

The Australian Research Council is preparing to change its funding rules to mandate open-access publishing for the research it funds.

In a statement to Research Australia & NZ, a spokeswoman for the organisation said the council is planning to follow the example set by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which announced earlier this year that all the researchers it funds must add their outputs to an open-access repository within 12 months of publication.

“The ARC is liaising with a range of stakeholders and considering factors such as the need to align changes with policies across Australia’s major higher education funding agencies,” added the spokeswoman. “Feedback so far from our higher education sector has been positive and the ARC will make a determination on this issue [of open access] quickly to ensure clarity for the sector.”

The move represents a major shift for the ARC. Former chief executive Margaret Sheil said as recently as April that the agency had no plans to switch to open access. However, her successor, Aidan Byrne, said in July that he was more in favour of the idea and now he appears ready to make a move.

The NHMRC was the first major funder to make open access mandatory, a move which will lead to around 3,000 publications per year being made freely available in repositories. In its initial statement on the subject in February, the agency said it wanted to follow the UK’s Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s richest medical research funders, which has made open access publishing compulsory since 2006.

However, the NHMRC has stayed with the ‘green’ open-access model by promoting repositories, rather than seeking to push for the ‘gold’ model preferred in the UK. Through this model, funders provide money to researchers to pay article processing charges up front so that commercial publishers can make their work available for free in traditional journals without an embargo period.

Neither has the NHMRC nor the ARC made announcements about introducing sanctions for non-compliance with their rules.

Wellcome became so frustrated with failure to comply with its open-access ambitions that it announced in June that it would withhold future funds from researchers that don’t meet its publishing requirements. The UK research councils are likely to follow the charity’s lead on this in the near future.

Campaigners in the UK cite this forceful approach as a tipping point in the movement towards making all government-funded research freely available.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has also backed the green open access model but says that it has no plans to compel grantees to make their research publications freely available.

John Curran, CSIRO’s general manager for communications, told Research Australia & NZ that the agency is establishing a nationwide open-access repository that so far contains around 2,000 works, but researchers will not be forced to add their work.

Curran says that this is because many CSIRO grants are funded in partnership with other organisations, which each have their own approach to research publishing. Curran tells us that, in fact, a decision has not yet been made as to whether the full CSIRO back catalogue will be included in the repository since “much of our research output is available from other institutions” such as the National Library of Australia.

Green open access is also the preferred choice of organisations representing librarians. Cathrine Harboe-Ree, president of the Council of Australian University Librarians, says universities are setting up and expanding open-access repositories with the help of government funding. CAUL, she adds, is “totally opposed” to the gold model.

Fellow CAUL member and librarian at Macquarie University Maxine Brodie also says that CAUL opposes “any model that creates additional income streams for publishers”.