Periodically university research in the UK is publicly assessed. The latest assessment is known as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and will be completed in 2014. Most research that will be considered by the REF is published in peer-reviewed journals. Most of these journals are subscription based. Universities pay large amounts of money in subscriptions.
In recent years there has been much criticism by both academics and universities about the high cost of such subscriptions. In a movement dubbed the Academic Spring, pressure has mounted for journal articles to be made available free of charge – i.e. on open access.
The government too has been concerned that the results of publicly-funded research has been disappearing behind ‘paywalls’ and hence not available free to people outside the universities which subscribe to such journals. Indeed, no single university can afford licences for all the 25,000 peer-reviewed journals currently being published. As a result, the government set up a committee under the chair of Professor Janet Finch to examine alternative ways of making research more accessible. The committee has just published its report.
It advocates an expansion of open-access journals:
The principle that the results of research that has been publicly funded should be freely accessible in the public domain is a compelling one, and fundamentally unanswerable…
Instead of relying on subscription revenues provided by or on behalf of readers, most [open-access journals] charge a fee to authors…before an article is published. Access for readers is then free of charge, immediately on publication, and with very few restrictions on use and re-use.
Under this model, universities would essentially pay to have their academics’ articles published rather than paying to purchase the journal. Alternatively, research councils could fund the publication of articles based on research already funded by them.
Many people go further. They argue that authors ought to be able to have their published research in any journal made freely available, after an embargo period, through their university’s website.
So is the current pricing model the best for encouraging research and for disseminating its findings? Or is open access a better model – and if so, of what form? Or would it discourage publishers and lead, in the end, to less being published or to a less rigorous peer review process? The questions are ones of pricing, incentives, choices and investment – the questions that economists are qualified to consider.
Open access may require funds to be rationed Times Higher Education, Paul Jump (21/6/12)
Set science free from publishers’ paywalls New Scientist, Stephen Curry (19/6/12)
Scientists must make research an open book Independent, Martin Hickman (18/6/12)
Report calls on government to back open access science BBC News, Pallab Ghosh (19/6/12)
Open access is the future of academic publishing, says Finch report Guardian, Alok Jha (19/6/12)
Open access to science – its implications discussed in UK raport ZME Science (19/6/12)
UK move to ‘open access’ in publishing Phys.Org, Justin Norrie (20/6/12)
Finch Group Report: Overview Research Information Network (June 2012)
Finch Group Report: Executive Summary Research Information Network (June 2012)
Finch Group Report: Full Report Research Information Network (June 2012)
- Explain the difference between the ‘gold’ and ‘green’ models of open-access journal article publishing?
- What externalities are involved in journal publication? What are the implications of this for socially efficient pricing?
- How could journal publication be made profitable under an open-access system?
- What are the incentive effects for (a) academics and (b) universities of ranking journals? Does the REF, whereby research articles are judged on their own merits, overcome problems of ranking journals?
- Does the existence of journal rankings allow the top journals in each discipline to maintain a position of market power? How is this likely to impact on journal or article pricing?
- How would university finances be affected by a move towards gold open access journals (a) in the short term; (b) in the long term?
- Would it be in universities’ interests to produce their own open-access journals?