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Tickell group seeks data on rise of open access

A group convened to study how successful UK institutions are in implementing open-access academic publishing policies plans to call for research proposals soon, its chairman has said.

Adam Tickell, provost and vice-principal at the University of Birmingham, said his group would publish its tender for proposals later than planned. It started work in the spring, holding its first meeting on 23 May.

The group was convened by the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, at the suggestion of the Finch group, a panel led by former Keele University vice-chancellor Janet Finch, that proposed much of what became the UK’s policy structure around open access. Two years after the Finch group’s original report, it recommended that UUK set up a further group to evaluate the UK’s success at moving towards open access.

The group plans to publish a call for proposals for commissioned research on this topic in the week commencing 17 November. The successful bidder will be chosen by mid-December, according to Chris Hale, a member of the UUK policy staff team supporting the project.

Tickell hopes the research will paint a picture of thow access to research outputs is increasing, how universities are coping with different funders’ policies, and whether they can continue to afford the rising cost of academic publishing. “The fundamental tension is that we don’t want to spend any more money and certainly after the next spending review we’ll have to spend a load less money,” says Tickell. In June, a series of freedom of information requests found that many universities are finding it difficult to track their compliance with open-access policies and ther expenditure.

Tickell says that the project will also seek to address universities’ concerns that they soon will be unable to afford enough scholarly publishing. Data published by researchers and institutions show that libraries’ costs are rising as they pay both subscriptions and article-processing charges for papers published through the gold route, which are to be made available immediately. Many librarians and open-access campaigners who expected publishers to reduce subscription costs as their revenues from APCs rose say that publishers who charge twice for the same content are ‘double dipping’. But Elsevier’s director of access and policy Alicia Wise said in an article published on 12 November in Research Fortnight that the definition of this term has slipped.

“I’m not exactly clear what that term means in conversation any more,” she says. “The concept has morphed a lot. Sometimes now you hear double dipping referring to two calls on a single library budget: one for subscriptions and one for APCs.”

Tickell says “this is going to have to be resolved at some point”. He adds: “Frankly universities are not in a position to meet those costs.”

Librarians and publishers are in ongoing talks over the affordability of scholarly publishing and the changes to the companies’ business models—discussions that will be informed by the Tickell group’s work over the next 2 years. 

Members of the group include representatives of the Wellcome Trust, RCUK, Elsevier, learned societies, Research Libraries UK, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, higher education ICT agency Jisc, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is funded by HEFCE, the Wellcome Trust and RCUK. Tickell says he wants to take a “pragmatic approach” to bringing all the parties together.

The group is planning to hold events to collect views from researchers, publishers, librarians, research office staff and university managers.