Go back

Open-access costs calculated

Universities and public research institutes spent a combined total of at least £9.2 million on complying with Research Councils UK's open-access publishing policies in 2012-13, a report by a research consultancy firm has said.

The report, published by Research Consulting on 21 November, says that the costs of actually making individual articles available were £0.8m for the gold route and £0.1m for green. The average costs were estimated to be £81 for the gold route and £33 for green.

The rest of the £9.2m outlay went on administration (£3.2m), overheads (£2.2m), systems and software (£1.3m), academic managers (£1.2m) and other advocacy and support (£0.4m).

The £9.2m does not include publishers’ article processing charges, which organisations can pay using block grants from the research councils. 

The report also estimates that higher education institutions will have to spend £4m to £5m a year to comply with the deposit requirements of the Research Excellence Framework after 2014. This figure excludes management, advocacy and infrastructure costs, which institutions expect to be comparable to those for complying with the research councils’ open-access policy. 

There is scope to reduce costs, the report says, for example through joint development of systems and automation of compliance reporting. 

The report, which was commissioned by London Higher and the open-access advocacy group Sparc Europe, is based on an online survey that was open to all higher education institutions and public research establishments in September 2014, as well as follow-up case studies. A total of 29 institutions provided data, which were combined with publicly available information on factors such as average salaries, RCUK institutional block grant allocations and numbers of articles submitted to the REF. 

The report’s estimates of the institutional costs of complying with research funders’ policies are dependent on the institutions’ estimates of time spent on open access. The report says that, unless otherwise stated, the figures for time and cost per article are weighted averages, "which take account of the differing article volumes handled by each responding institution in determining representative figures for the sector as a whole".

Simon Kerridge, the chairman of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, reviewed the report before it was published. He told Research Fortnight that the costs may actually be higher for smaller institutions. “These are the averages, and my perception is that if you’ve got a large institution that does a lot of processing, the overhead per deposit is lower because of the economies of scale."

For small institutions, he says, "there are some fairly large costs in terms of just having that expertise resource in the first place and also setting up the processes. So I think the costs can be quite a lot higher for smaller institutions, which in extreme cases don’t receive any APC funding from RCUK, and in many cases don’t receive pump-priming to set up the initial resource."

Stephen Curry, a structural biologist at Imperial College London and a campaigner for open access, argued that the report could have looked at the cost-benefit ratio rather than fixating on the costs. "The cost itself is of course a minor fraction of the amount that UK science pays into the profits of international publishers year on year. They’re clawing 40 per cent off us, so one needs to think about these things in all of those different contexts."

Elsewhere, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it is to adopt an open-access policy for all publications and data resulting from research it has funded. The policy will apply to all agreements made after 1 January 2015. 

Publications will have to be made available immediately, although a 12-month embargo will be allowed during a transitional period to 1 January 2017. The foundation says it will fund payments of publishers’ fees. 

Trevor Mundel, the foundation’s president of global health, said that the policy change would reinforce commitments to sharing research data and information in global public health, and that this would accelerate the development of solutions to tackle infectious diseases, maternal and child mortality, and malnutrition.