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UKRI’s new open-access policy will benefit society


Funder’s open access changes will help unlock benefits of research for society, says Duncan Wingham

Open access plays a key role in ensuring the benefits of research can be felt across the R&D ecosystem, society and the economy. It allows for greater sharing of information between researchers and other collaborators, strengthening their collective findings.

Building on the long-held commitment of the research councils, this principle underpins UKRI’s new open access policy, which we are announcing today.

With the new policy we are ensuring the research we fund meets the mandate outlined in the government’s R&D Roadmap. It will require all peer-reviewed research articles acknowledging UKRI funding to be available immediately for open access on publication, and with full reuse rights. We have also introduced a new requirement for open access on monographs and long-form outputs.

It has been a long road since the Finch report in 2012, which started the transition to full and open access for research articles. The open access requirements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) built on the Finch report and collectively established that multiple routes to open access were necessary and would be supported. In that time, the UK has achieved increased levels of open access which has built on support from universities and the publishing industry.

More must be done to fulfil OA ambitions

But our new policy recognises that more must be done to deliver on the ambitions of full and immediate open access.

In drafting the new policy, we welcomed a wide range of views in a comprehensive consultation. We heard from diverse stakeholders, including universities, publishers and researchers from different disciplines. We also took input from other funders, including other government departments and our Plan S partners including Wellcome Trust and the European Commission, while considering how best to develop a UKRI policy for the UK context.

We continue to recognise multiple routes to open access in a way that supports author choice and different offerings from publishers, and the new policy is aligned with other UK funders so that authors and institutions with multiple sources of funding will not face conflicts in their choice of publication venue. The policy is also open to new business models for the provision of open access.

In just the past year, the UK open-access publishing landscape has been changed by a dramatic increase in transitional agreements. These provide access to paywalled articles alongside open-access publishing for UK-based authors. Currently, more than 50 per cent of UK articles are covered by these agreements, and the take-up is increasing. This has been a very welcome development in providing affordable routes to open access.

Minimal changes, important departures

While the changes to our policy are minimal, there are some important changes from the existing RCUK policy.

Firstly, we have provided clarity on licences, with CC-BY providing the default license as an internationally accepted route to maximising sharing and re-use.

Secondly, we require immediate rather than delayed access where the publisher allows an author-accepted manuscript as a route to open access. This may be the route of choice for some subscription publishers. For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, has said it will support this route.

Equally, while the published outcomes of the research we fund must be freely available, it is for publishers to decide whether to accept manuscripts on the basis the open publication will be an author accepted manuscript: we do not demand free publishing.

For our grant recipients we will make it simple—the acceptance of a UKRI grant comes with a responsibility to make the resulting outputs freely available on publication. With the publishing landscape moving towards transitional agreements alongside our commitment to increase UKRI funding for open access, we can achieve this goal.

UKRI will strongly encourage models where our increased block grant will bear the cost of publication—and support fees which are fair and reasonable. We are delighted, too, that we are taking steps towards open access to monographs and providing a dedicated fund to support this new policy.

Our new policy will apply to research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022. For monographs, book chapters and edited collections, this policy will apply to publications on or after 1 January 2024, and we will permit embargoes of up to 12 months.

These choices reflect that the monograph landscape is less mature for long-form open access.

In due course there will be guidance from the UK funding bodies about the submission of outputs to the next REF, but we can assure authors now that any outputs which satisfy the UKRI policy will also satisfy any future REF policy.

Introducing a comprehensive UKRI policy will further open access across the UK’s research and innovation system. Doing so will unlock benefits for us all—for the sector, for the economy, and for society.

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham is UKRI Executive Champion for Open Research, and Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight