What would be the implications of a ‘gold’ Open Access REF policy?

Earlier this year, HEFCE and its sister funding councils announced a new policy for Open Access (OA) in relation to the next Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is a periodic exercise to assess the research undertaken by UK HE institutions, assessing the quality of research outputs (such as publications, performances, and software), the impact of this research on wider society, and the health of the research environment in institutions within which research takes place. Scores are given for each ‘unit of assessment’ (disciplinary area) submitted by an institution, and these scores drive research funding for that institution for the following years.

A lot of money flows to institutions as a result of this exercise. The big number is the £1.6bn per year that HEFCE allocates in quality-related research (QR) funding to English institutions, and further funding is provided to institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by their respective national HE funding bodies. The REF scores are also used to calculate how several hundred million pounds in research capital grants are allocated to institutions in England, and the scores are used by institutions and others for comparative analysis in league tables. It is safe to say that this exercise is a very big deal for institutions in the UK.

The policy for OA was introduced after an intensive, unique, two-staged, UK-wide consultation exercise, undertaken over a period of roughly 18 months. The consultation firstly sought views on how the REF might introduce a requirement that outputs submitted to the next REF (expected towards the end of this decade) be published or made available as OA. The overwhelming view was expressed that it would be inappropriate, as well as financially unviable, for the REF to expect authors and their institutions to make outputs available via the ‘gold’ route. The funding councils instead consulted on and implemented a policy that is much ‘greener’ in nature: a requirement that journal articles and conference papers be deposited in an institutional or subject repository and made available for read/download after any embargo had elapsed.

The academic and HEI community, being all too aware of the unresolved issues with gold OA, seemingly breathed a sigh of relief at that point. But the world has moved on somewhat since then. The Institute of Physics Publishing and the Royal Society of Chemistry have introduced mechanisms to deal with the costly issue of ‘double-dipping’ by offsetting institutions’ subscription payments by the amount paid in gold OA fees, and it is understood that other major publishers will be following suit soon. More recently, Nature Publishing Group converted its flagship OA journal Nature Communications into a fully OA title, and the Royal Society launched a new OA journal, Open Science. It is not just publishers that are driving progress towards: just a couple of weeks ago the William and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a very strict OA policy for its funded authors to follow: by 2017, all papers arising from Gates funding must be made available immediately on publication as OA with a CC BY licence. The OA world seemingly erupted in praise for Gates, the policy being feted as a victory for openness in research.

The purpose of this post is to re-examine the REF requirements in light of these developments. The REF policy encourages fast and free OA, but its minimum requirements allow restrictive copyright and long embargoes to be placed on research publications. Neither of these, in my view, can be considered to deliver true OA. And one can’t help noticing that some of those praising Gates for pushing things forward have also criticised the REF for not going far enough in freeing up research. Leaving aside the obvious point that the REF requirements will make the vast majority of UK research publications available for free in some form, which is a huge improvement on today’s situation and widely seen as a ‘game-changer’, it is worth revisiting whether the REF rules could, in fact, be tightened to require the immediate and liberal use and reuse of research publications as a condition of eligibility for assessment.

Immediate access

The REF rules say that papers must be made available in a repository within 12 months of publication (24 months in the humanities and social sciences). This was a pragmatic decision: most publishers allow green OA, but often say that papers can only be made OA after an embargo period has passed. As it happens, the figures of 12 and 24 months allow 96% of papers to simultaneously meet the REF requirements and publishers’ requirements, and given only 12% of papers are currently being deposited in repositories the gains in OA achievable within these parameters were felt to be more than sufficient as a substantial first step.

Nonetheless, if we wished to shorten these delays, we’d have a number of options. The first would be to tighten up the requirements. HEFCE analysts have shown that if the embargo maxima was shortened to 6 months (12 months in HSS), and publishers did not change their policies, the proportion of papers that could comply with the REF policy would fall from 96% to 67%. If one went further, and required immediate access to papers, the proportion of compliant papers would drop to around 40%. This raises an important policy question – what to do about that huge chunk of research papers that wouldn’t comply with stricter rules? The current policy is fairly lenient in how it handles those few papers that can’t meet the requirements – a sensible and pragmatic approach, if one accepts the principle that if one can achieve 96% OA without fussing over embargoes then one should probably not worry too much about that remaining 4%. But is that a feasible approach for 60% of research papers? And how lenient should one be?

If one were very strict, and said that only papers that were available within those embargo periods were admissible to the REF – perhaps saying that any papers that didn’t meet the requirements would have to be justified on a case-by-case basis with a very high rate of rejection – one is effectively barring publication in those journals. It is easy to see how upsetting that would be for academics and their institutions. Some excellent papers would be excluded from the REF. Some papers would be published, academically speaking, in the ‘wrong’ place. Whole disciplinary areas might be left with no compliant publishing options. Authors and their institutions might feel compelled to pay article processing charges (APCs) to comply with the REF. Yes, some publishers would shift their rules in order to allow UK authors to submit and publish in their journals. But how many would do this? Indeed, how many could do this? (Not to mention the risk that some publishers would see this as an opportunity to ‘force’ authors down the gold route…)

One might decide to be tough, stick to one’s guns, and simply accept those risks. I wonder how much concern this would cause at very senior levels within institutions that have significant lobbying power. What would the government think about a UK research assessment that barred academics from publishing in ‘top’ journals? What effect would this policy have on inward mobility if overseas researchers saw the UK as a place where you couldn’t publish in certain journals? Would that stick for long?

It is possible to see how one could mitigate these risks, of course, by doing one of two things. The first would be to relax the approach to exceptions, effectively letting in most (or nearly all) of the non-compliant papers. This, in my view, would be totally pointless. All it would do is increase the amount of work that institutions would need to do to consider and record exceptions in their REF submissions. One may as well start from the position of having relaxed criteria in the first place, and save on workload.

The second is to increase the emphasis on the gold route to OA. Gold OA has no embargoes, of course, because the risks that the embargos are designed to protect against are underwritten via other means (commonly by the payment of article processing charges). Papers published via the gold route can be deposited straightaway. Still thinking about compliance, then, a key question is how many of the papers being published today are published in venues that have a gold OA option. A good number of that ‘compliant’ 40% figure, I’d wager. But certainly not all of the remaining 60%. Journals like Nature offer no gold option. One would need to have a way of dealing with those papers that are published in venues (like Nature) that do not allow green OA with a zero embargo and do not have a gold OA option. It would be interesting to do some analysis to see how many papers we’d be talking about here.

Liberal reuse

Before getting into questions of cost, I want to consider the implications of tightening up the licensing requirements. At the moment, the REF policy is pretty permissive about licensing. The requirement is that outputs must allow anyone with an internet connection to discover, read, download and perform in-text search on them. This means that papers in repositories are OK, but those proprietary platforms such as ReadCube that forbid people from downloading the paper are not good enough. Plugins that embed papers in repositories (in the manner of a YouTube video on Facebook) need to allow downloading to comply. But the requirements do not stretch beyond that. Papers do not have to be made available under a Creative Commons license to comply with the policy, and if they were, a restrictive CC BY-NC-ND licence would be sufficient.

This is a far cry from the very permissive CC BY licence that Gates Foundation is requiring for all the published papers arising from research it funds. Why is the REF policy so relaxed about licensing? Some of reasons are similar to those given above for embargoes: ease of compliance, and the judgement that the policy requirements in their current form constitute a big enough step in the right direction. While it is very common for publishers to allow authors to post copies of their manuscript in repositories, it is rare for them to allow any special licence to be attached to this posting. It is not the case that publishers explicitly forbid CC licences; they do not need to. They own the copyright, and by saying nothing they automatically assert all their rights.

Will toll-access publishers allow papers to be made available under more permissive terms that those set out in the REF policy? I think they will have difficulty with this happening via a green OA route. Green OA is acceptable to publishers at the moment for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that the academic community has long insisted that publishers allow them to post their paper on their website or in a repository; without this, I don’t believe green OA would even exist. Beyond this, I believe publishers tolerate green OA because they can do all sorts of things to reduce the value of the green OA deposit, effectively driving value towards scarcity (the toll-access paper). Embargoes are one such mechanism. Special conditions on green deposits – such as the requirement that the deposited file not be the final printed version of record or the requirement that the repository version link directly to the toll-access version – are others.

Is copyright such a mechanism? Technically speaking, copyright on green OA papers does not drive value towards the more scarce offering (the toll-access version of record). However, less than full copyright on green OA papers might drive value in the other direction – away from toll-access papers and towards green deposits – because the OA version is more useful. As long as toll-access publishers continue to exploit copyright in the way they do now, they will be concerned to protect the copyright of their work from the ‘threat’ of more liberal licensing. So no, I don’t believe publishers will be keen to allow green OA deposits to be made available under more liberal terms. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it in response to a REF policy, or RCUK policy for that matter, and in any case there is clear merit in engaging in discussions about what liberal licensing of green OA looks like. It simply means that they won’t make these moves without some discomfort. And, as with shortening or eliminating embargoes, some will be perfectly happy to do it, others will simply refuse to do it, and some will see an opportunity to force payment of gold OA fees.

Again, one could either accept those risks and press ahead regardless with a strict requirement for CC BY or some other licence. This has similar consequences to enforcing a stricter policy on embargo periods: it either restricts author choice, or it restricts the ability of the REF to accept the ‘best’ research (assuming that ‘best’ does not include a judgement of openness, which is not inarguable). Or it forces payment of gold OA fees. Would we want our national research assessment system to be bound by such restrictions? Even if we did, would senior academics, politicians, institutional managers, sector leaders, learned societies, publishers and overseas academics accept it without a fight?

This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that if one wants to move towards a stricter policy around immediacy and permissiveness of access to publications submitted to the REF, one must be willing to accept that stricter conditions attached to green OA will not work on their own. The green OA environment means that any stricter conditions on OA would need to be more leniently enforced, because they could not be universally adhered to. Lenient enforcement in the context of the REF is a very difficult thing to achieve because institutions tend to worry about how strictly the parameters of any lenient approach get enforced; stricter and more rigid enforcement of more lenient rules works much better. (Lenient enforcement also creates the problem that it relaxes the pressure on publishers to adhere to the stricter rules, making any change – including incremental change – much less likely.)

Moving beyond green OA

So if we can’t achieve faster and more permissive access through green OA alone, we must accept that gold OA will be a necessary part of how authors and institutions can comply with stricter policies. To illustrate, if it were to emulate the Gates policy, a revised REF policy would state that, to be eligible for the REF, publications would have to be available under CC BY licence immediately after publication. Compliance would happen via either the green route or the gold route.

A policy this strict would drive a significant amount of business to the gold OA model. This raises some significant questions, which I’ve started to tackle below. (Disclaimer: the numbers here are taken from a variety of sources and rely on a large number of assumptions that are not factored in. I have given these calculations for illustrative purposes only.)

  • How much would this cost? We know that the REF policy will have a much wider effect than just on those publications submitted to the exercise; authors and institutions cannot know which publications they wish to submit in advance of the REF submission phase, so any policy will drive OA to the full range of research publications happening in UK HEIs. Currently, the UK produces around 140,000 papers per year. Not all of these will be produced an author or authors within UK HE, but the vast majority are, and the volume of published research increases annually by significantly large proportions that 140,000 is useful enough as a ball-park figure for our purposes. If we accept the above reasoning that the green route is pretty much useless for delivering immediate OA with a CC BY licence, then we should conclude that most, if not all, of those 140,000 papers will need to be channelled through the gold route each year. How much will this cost? This is very tricky to predict, but if one takes the Finch middle-ground prediction of £1,750 for the mean APC, and assumes that publishers either already have or will shortly introduce a CC BY gold OA option, the back-of-the-fag-packet UK gross APC requirement would come to £245m per year.
  • How would this be paid for? Well, not all of that £245m would need to be found by institutions and authors: RCUK and the Wellcome Trust, for instance, would already be covering a proportion of this sum from their grants (£24m on recent figures). The remainder requirement is therefore roughly £221m. If this were a REF policy, then it would be fair to say that the funds that were allocated on the back of the REF should be used to cover this sum. HEFCE paid out £1,558m in quality-related (QR) research funding in 2014-15. Assuming that English universities and colleges account for 81% of the total UK output (based on UK funding body contributions to joint projects), the APC requirement would involve taking a £179m chunk out of QR (roughly 11% of the total), allocating this toward APCs. (These numbers are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in research output, APC prices, publication patterns, the OA policies of other research funders, and overall research funding levels, many of which would appear to put upward pressure on this 11% figure.)
  • What effect on research performance? If the funding model did not change to reflect this new requirement, it would create funding problems for research-intensive institutions that had lower REF scores. The APC funding would therefore more sensibly be awarded by volume of research published alone, meaning that the total HEFCE research allocations (QR+APC) would be less concentrated towards excellence. Taking a ratio for annual return on investment for R&D of between 0.2 to 0.5, the loss in research performance in the first year alone would amount to between £36m and £90m (not considering any de-concentration effects); this number effectively doubles each year as R&D impact is long-term and cumulative. For comparison, the positive long-term NPV from OA has been very hard to quantify in recent years; Finch even calculates the figure as a negative number, recognising that NPV calculations will miss many positive externalities of OA. But ut it is reasonable to assume that in the short to medium term the additional gains from pure gold OA are bound to be negligible as subscription payments will need to continue for the other 94% of global research publications. Simply put, in a 100% gold REF world, we’d do 11% less research to make just 6% of the world’s publications OA, which is damaging in itself, and as long as we’re going it alone the UK taxpayer gets a bad deal from this sort of OA.

A few caveats here. In my second bullet point above, I assume that QR funding must be allocated away from research costs and towards APCs. I have made two further assumptions in connection to this. The first is that additional funding for APCs will not be available from government or elsewhere. (This seems like a reasonable assumption, based on recent central funding decisions in this area.) The second is that all QR goes directly to supporting research activity. This is less realistic: it is clear to me that some QR funding is currently used by institutions to cover journal subscriptions and other indirect costs. I generally agree with Finch that the end point of gold OA is widespread subscription cancellations; if we get to that point, the loss in UK research performance from a global 100% APC-driven gold OA outcome could be much lower, if not quite zero, because subscription money could in theory be transferred back into research budgets. (I say not quite zero because publishers freely admit that the price they’ll set for an OA system will be much higher than that they currently set for subscriptions.)

In sum, if we were to fulfil the aims of OA purists and design a REF policy that looks like the one Bill Gates has just announced, we have to accept that gold OA would have a significant role to play – indeed, gold OA would probably account for close to 100% of research papers published by UK HEIs each year. However, it’s obvious that the short-term costs of simultaneously paying APCs and subscriptions would require dedicated additional support of the sort I have described above, because they would otherwise be unaffordable. While the benefits of OA itself are substantial in the longer run through increased knowledge stock, positive externalities and the magical but hard-to-predict specific effects of openness interacting with opportunity, the marginal benefits of immediate CC BY OA compared with embargoed copyrighted OA are less obviously delineated. If we were to go down this road without measures in place to control the short and medium term costs (such as those introduced by IoP and RSC), the UK would take a substantial hit on research output and performance in the short to medium term, and possibly in perpetuity.

Postscript: this post ignores (a) the controversies in certain communities around the CC BY licence, and (b) the commonly heard prediction that universal green OA will somehow deliver a sustainable gold OA future all on its own.


Update: As noted by Cameron and Graham in the comments below, my analysis of the costs of OA is not as sensitive as it could be. In my defence, that wasn’t really the point of it, and hopefully I’ve given enough disclaimers to show that this stuff is pretty difficult to do well. Cameron points to some work done by PLOS that reveals that only about 40-50% of affiliated papers get billed to a given country or institution. This means that not all of those 140,000 papers will be billed to the UK. Cameron himself notes that any country pursuing the fully gold route, as I’ve set out, would see its proportion rise, as co-authors in other countries would be less likely to step up to the plate. Insofar as we’re talking about transitional costs of ‘going it alone’, this is a very real risk in our case. However, this is a factor that would affect the numbers, and my analysis doesn’t capture it.

Graham notes that repository costs, monitoring costs and subscriptions would reduce in the event that all of the UK’s research output moves to gold OA. I think this certainly true for repository costs, but these administrative costs would be replaced by payment processing costs within universities for dealing with APC funds etc., which as this report has shown, are much higher than the costs of posting in repositories. Monitoring would still be necessary for the REF, and would be harder as compliance would depend on third parties (publishers), not local services (repositories). There would still be the costs of dealing with the REF processes and policies, too, and these might rise or fall with each new variant of policy across the wealth of funders that authors and institutions have to deal with. So I decided to exclude administrative costs; but if I were to include them, I think it would push the cost up, not down.

Would subscriptions fall if 100K+ articles became available OA? No, not unaided. We’re talking about 6% of research output globally. Why would an institution cancel a journal big deal if they could only access 6% of the articles for free? To say prices will fall ignores the long-standing issue that subscription prices are continuing to rise – a still current trend, and one that’s predicted to continue into 2015. Subscriptions only fall when they are under threat. They are not under threat from local moves to gold OA, not without the kind of interventions being staged by University of Konstanz or by universities in The Netherlands. They might fall in tandem with APC rises if publishers realise en masse that double dipping is a real issue and resolve to follow IoP and RSC, though…


17 thoughts on “What would be the implications of a ‘gold’ Open Access REF policy?

  1. Hi Ben. Interesting and useful analysis. One point I would add to your calculation. As detailed here (http://blogs.plos.org/opens/2014/11/23/let-it-go-cancelling-subscriptions-funding-transitions/) there’s another important parameter. That’s the proportion of relevant papers that are actually billed to the UK. We find when we look at real data that generally around 40-50% of all affiliated papers get billed to a given country or institution (the 60% figure we derive for the Netherlands is high compared to others).

    So this would bring your £245M figure down to around £120M. Then we would need to quibble about what the average APC would in fact be – that’s a lot harder to figure out of course in advance. Also a reasonable case could be made that those institutions and countries taking this route would see their “billed proportion” rise because co-authors in other countries would be less likely to step up to the plate. And of course a lot of this would be in the context of still having to pay subscriptions.

    I think the big challenge for HEFCE is the need to make policy a long way out in advance. The question I would pose back to you is less about the specifics and more how could we imagine a policy/assessment environment in which the policy can be gradually strengthened over the years up to 2020 without making the administrative burden and confusion grow substantially?

  2. Yes, you’re absolutely right, and I’d tried to ignore all of that for the purposes of my back-of-fag-packet number crunching! The factors you mention all push the numbers in different directions, as you note.

    This is all hypothetical, of course, but the question you raise is a very valid one, and gets to the heart of why this is a difficult area for us. Going through the reasoning above has made me realise how hard it will be to rely on the green route alone, but a further complication is that shifts in the ‘mood music’ can sometimes create opportunities to advance policy incrementally. That sort of thing is impossible to predict and then signal far enough in advance to make reasonable and straightforward policy that is tied to a multi-year REF cycle.

    So we might just be talking about REF2026 here. However, more hopefully, while the current environment might not support big pushes towards quicker, freer OA without the difficulties I’ve described above, a high deposit rate on the back of REF policy should help things along nicely.

  3. To add to Cameron’s comments, you can’t just factor in the cost of APCs, without also factoring out the costs that are otherwise being incurred that wouldn’t be necessary.

    How much is spent in running repositories, providing support for repositories, monitoring policies, etc. which could be removed or reduced by publishing everything as open by default?

    How much would subscriptions drop in price / fail to increase by taking 100,000+ articles out of the closed access catalogue and making them available openly.

    The actual financial cost in having a gold policy rather than green is less than any of the numbers guestimated above (* assuming that the APCs themselves are not more expensive).

    • Thanks Graham, I have ignored admin costs here as recent analysis has shown that gold OA is more expensive to process than green OA (and that’s excluding paying the APC).. see here: http://www.researchconsulting.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Research-Consulting-Counting-the-Costs-of-OA-Final.pdf — so I think to a certain extent it is better to treat these costs separately rather than try to subtract them from the main figures (and if you disagree, go ahead, it pushes the cost of gold up anyways).

      Would repositories disappear in a gold OA world? No, they’re still useful for theses etc. Monitoring would continue to be necessary for any OA policy.

      Are my numbers wrong? Probably. Are they higher or lower than I suggest? You say lower. I suspect the real costs are higher. However, I fully accept that subscriptions would need to fall in order for this to work. But would they? Perhaps those rare, UK-only journals that do not accept submissions from anyone outside of our little gold thought experiment here.


    Comments on “What would be the implications of a ‘gold’ Open Access REF policy?” (Ben Johnson, HEFCE)

    BJ: “this post ignores … the commonly heard prediction that universal green OA will somehow deliver a sustainable gold OA future all on its own…
    Let me spell out exactly how and why pre-green gold OA is fool’s gold — unaffordable and unsustainable — and how universal green OA will deliver a sustainable gold OA future in the form of post-green fair-gold:

    1. Pre-green gold is arbitrarily and hugely over-priced. (We will see how and why shortly.)

    2. Payment for pre-green gold is double payment: subscription fees for incoming papers plus gold fees for outgoing papers. (Must-have subscription journals cannot be cancelled by an institution until their articles are accessible to users in some other way.)

    3. Paying the same hybrid journal for pre-green hybrid gold also allows publisher double-dipping.

    4. Even if the pre-green hybrid gold publisher promises all N of its subscribing institutions a full rebate on all hybrid gold income, that only means that (N-1)N of whatever hybrid gold any institution pays for its outgoing hybrid gold papers becomes a subsidy to all the other N-1 subscribing institutions: The institution only gets back 1/Nth of its hybrid gold outlay. (The UK, for example, would get back a 6% subscription rebate for its hybrid gold outlay; the rest of the UK hybrid gold outlay would become a rebate to the other 94% of subscribing institutions in the countries that were not foolish enough to pay pre-emptively for pre-green gold.)

    5. Research funds are scarce, subscriptions are barely affordable, and pre-green gold payment is completely unnecessary, because green OA can be provided at no extra cost. (Institutional repositories already exist anyway, for multiple purposes, so their cost per paper is negligible, particularly compared to the grotesque cost per paper for pre-green gold.)

    6. CC-BY is most definitely not worth the extra cost of pre-green gold — and CC-BY will come soon after green . (We will see how and why shortly.)

    7. Publisher embargoes on green are ineffectual because of the repositories’ copy-request Button (*if* the paper was mandatorily deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication, exactly as HEFCE requires).

    8. So post-green — i.e., once immediate-deposit green has been mandated globally, by all institutions and funders, as HEFCE has done — institutions can at last cancel their journal subscriptions.

    9. The post-green unsustainability of subscriptions will force publishers to cut publishing costs that have been made obsolete by the post-green OA era by phasing out the print edition, the online edition, access-provision and archiving: these functions will now be offloaded onto the distributed global network of green OA institutional repositories.

    10. To cover the remaining remaining post-green cost of peer-reviewed journal publishing — peer review itself — post-green journals will convert to affordable, sustainable fair gold, which institutions will easily pay, per outgoing paper, out of a fraction of their windfall subscription cancelation savings on incoming papers.

    In other words, post-green, subscriptions will be gone, embargoes will be gone, and all OA will be CC-BY (where desired).
    BJ: “Would repositories disappear in a gold OA world? No, they’re still useful for theses etc. Monitoring would continue to be necessary for any OA policy.”
    In the Post-green fair-gold OA world there will no longer be any need to monitor OA policy. But there will ceratinly be a need for the worldwide network of green OA repositories — to provide access and archving in place of the pre-green subscription journals.

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. L’Harmattan. 99-106. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/13309/

    ________ (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8). http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/21348/

    ________ (2013) The Postgutenberg Open Access Journal (revised). In, Cope, B and Phillips, A (eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal (2nd edition). 2nd edition of book Chandos. http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/353991/

    ________ (2014) The only way to make inflated journal subscriptions unsustainable: Mandate Green Open Access. LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog 4/28 http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/04/28/inflated-subscriptions-unsustainable-harnad/

  5. Repositories are useful, but would people run them or not? I don’t know – although I could name at least one institution that was all set to ditch their repository as all of their content is covered by gold publishing – until the Hefce/REF policy came up and made it necessary for them to run one, despite it providing no additional benefits (and arguably making it harder for people to consume content).

    That report specifically puts green as £0.1m, but a substantial amount of the £0.4m advocacy and £1.3m systems costs are directly attributable to having a green policy, and could be completely unnnecessary with a fully gold policy.

    Further, the report is targeted specifically to the RCUK policy, where gold is optional (but preferred), which itself incurs costs in support and advocacy. A gold policy would allow Hefce/RCUK to follow the same strategy as Wellcome – working with publishers to switch the publishing route to gold by default for UK authors. This would reduce overhead and increase compliance.

    Speaking of Wellcome, they have monitored subscription cost rises, and noted that they are comparatively lower amongst hybrid journals that have a significant number of OA articles. It’s a route that’s virtually guaranteed to get very high levels of compliance, whereas very few green policies have ever gotten even close.

    There are lots of factors that can push the costs in one way or another – we haven’t even started to address the efficiency of research in having access to large quantities of liberally licenced research – and yes, a gold policy would have a higher cost – but the mitigating factors shouldn’t be entirely ignored, even if they aren’t estimated / included.

    With a research budget of £3-4 billion (depending on what figure you believe from brief web searches), we’re talking about between 3% and 8% of the budget. Against projected efficiency savings of up to £500m. If we were “wasting” 2-4 times the cost of a gold policy (based on the numbers above), why is it even a debate about whether a policy should have been adopted that would potentially generate far greater returns and efficiencies.

    • There are significant short term costs of funding gold OA for the whole UK research base that, without controls to deal with double dipping, would result in real reductions to research output both now and into the future. Any reductions in research output now would have considerable effects on NPV for research in perpetuity; a reduction of 3%/8%/11% each year between now and (say) 2020 would wipe billions off the future value of UK research. To me that feels like it’s worth debating.

      Efficiency savings are important to recognise as part of the benefit of OA. Where did you get £500m from? Is that an annual saving? Is that in universities alone, or is it a wider saving made by society? Does it depend on global OA, or is it UK specific? And – most importantly – is it the specific additional benefit derived from CC BY gold OA to just the UK’s papers, compared with that derived from embargoed green OA to just the UK’s papers? I’m not aware of any study that breaks the efficiency projections down in this way.

      But I admit it is an important part of the picture that I’ve missed from my analysis. If anyone can show me that the difference between (a) the efficiency gains to the UK of providing CC BY gold OA to the UK’s papers and (b) the efficiency gains to the UK of providing more restrictively licensed, embargoed green OA to the UK’s papers is (c) *greater* than the reductions in NPV from diverting research funds to pay for APCs right now — and I could be reasonably confident that those efficiencies would be entirely reinvested in research activity — then I’d agree that the long term gain of gold OA outweighs the short term pain of double-dipping.

      Nobody has yet been able to show me that.

      On admin, I agree with you that a 100% gold policy would offer opportunities to simplify things and drive down implementation costs, perhaps through centralised UK APC arrangements, and because some institutions might choose to move resources away from repository services and green OA compliance. However, I don’t believe a 100% gold policy would be feasible or equitable now: any REF policy would need a provision for authors publishing in non-compliant journals to deliver OA via the green route (you’ll be aware that even Wellcome allow this). So a mixed model seems to be a necessary and unavoidable part of a transition to full gold OA, and the green part would carry an administrative burden.

      • “However, I don’t believe a 100% gold policy would be feasible or equitable now: any REF policy would need a provision for authors publishing in non-compliant journals to deliver OA via the green route (you’ll be aware that even Wellcome allow this).”

        Yes, and you’ll also be aware that Wellcome only had a 55%-ish compliance rate with it’s green OA policy – and 85% of those do so by publishing gold.

        Clearly universities are going to do what they can to ensure compliance with the REF policy, and it may well result in greater than 50% of papers deposited.

        But will it be 100% compliance? Will it actually be higher than compliance to a properly implemented gold policy? If the actual compliance is less, then the larger theoretical coverage of a green policy is rather moot.

        And even with a green policy, 2% of outputs funded by Wellcome were published in venues that would not allow compliance with the policy.

        Leaving aside cost projections for a minute, I’m more interested in actual outcomes than theoretical maximums – if we could make the distinction, I would sooner choose a policy that actually delivers 85-90% coverage out of 90-95% ceiling, over one that could achieve 98% but only delivers 55%.

        Even NIH policy was only achieving 75% compliance as of 2 years ago – and that’s with publishers doing most of the work in depositing.

        Very, very few instituion driven policies have achieved similar or better. The REF policy is a giant bet that it can deliver more by backing institutions – which is more expensive than following the NIH model with a central repository and co-ordinating with publishers. The likelihood of achieving higher compliance is so small that if absolute costs are such a concern, then even for a green policy REF is backing the wrong horse.

        “To say prices will fall ignores the long-standing issue that subscription prices are continuing to rise – a still current trend, and one that’s predicted to continue into 2015.”

        Prices are only going to fall when the amount of content locked behind paywalls starts to fall. This hasn’t happened – even where OA content has increased in a journal, so has the paywalled content. So prices go up, because your consumption has gone up.

        Every article that is made available green when published behind a paywall is only contributing to making the subscription prices rise even faster.

  6. Graham, let’s just take your line of argument to its logical conclusion, then. You seem to be arguing that centralised (gold) OA arrangements will achieve higher coverage than institution-driven green OA (I assume you include author-driven self-archiving in that latter camp), and on balance it would be better to forget green OA rather than worrying about repositories. OK – how would REF implement that? By implementing a policy that states that all papers submitted to the REF must be published as gold OA where there was an option to do so, and then by paying the fees centrally.

    But wait – how could REF know what papers would be submitted to a future REF? Answer: it can’t, so it either makes a prediction (messy and harmful to those that are left out), or it just pays to make them all OA just in case. The least complicated way to do that would be to have arrangements with publishers to pay the APCs of every single paper where one or more author is employed by a UK HEI and where another funder hadn’t already paid the APC – that’d get almost all of them! It would be straightforward in policy terms and would get maximal coverage, and it reduces the risk of non-compliance to near zero.

    I don’t think we’d need to worry about adjusting down our APC figure to take account of Cameron’s point in that scenario – other countries would happily sit back and let REF pay. And RCUK and Wellcome would presumably also say ‘thank you very much’, and limit their own policies to non-UK-HEI researchers. Or perhaps they’d make a transfer to the funding councils for their share. Either way, it’s all going to be paid for, so it’s all compliant.

    Let’s also assume that all of the publishers that have a gold option would sign up to such a scheme – we might even get a few more on board, in fact. Central arrangements would get compliance up close to 100% of papers in this scenario, within a (say) 90-95% natural limit. We’d still have a few publishers that didn’t want to offer gold, but that would surely reduce over time.

    How much would all that cost to administer? Well, HEFCE and its sister funding councils would need a team of people to manage the APC payments / negotiate the contracts / run the systems / ensure publishers are doing their job and so on. It wouldn’t be the full £9.2m figure in the Research Consulting report (they wouldn’t need advocacy, or research managers, and they could probably save on overheads by signing APC big deals. But I can imagine it involving a large team of skilled people, perhaps 10-12 deep (let’s say £0.5m in staffing), plus a few of the other costs in that report, like systems and software, that would need to be developed/purchased centrally. £2m sounds about right as a guesstimate.

    And what would the saving be? Well HEIs would not need to find that £9.2m, nor the £5m for a green REF. So there is potentially a £12.2m annual saving.

    You’re right, it WOULD be cheaper to administer!

    Oh – wait a minute – I forgot about the £200m+ in APCs.

    Let me throw a few more spanners into the works:
    1. Does HEFCE/REF have the right to force papers OA without the author’s permission? Even those that are not submitted to the REF?
    2. Does HEFCE/REF have the right to go against the wishes of the academic and institutional communities that voiced such widespread opposition to an APC-driven gold OA approach?
    3. Does HEFCE/REF have the right to unilaterally subtract hundreds of millions of pounds (billions over the REF period) from the UK research budget to drive up coverage of an OA policy?


    • “other countries would happily sit back and let REF pay. And RCUK and Wellcome would presumably also say ‘thank you very much’, and limit their own policies to non-UK-HEI researchers”

      OK, there are a few wrinkles 🙂 In reality, this should come down to funder agreements – either each funder must agree to pay their fair share of APCs for a co-funded project, or we accept that they aren’t subject to a gold policy and fall under a green policy (but there are some additional points to that I’ll come back to later).

      So, your spanners:

      1) If HEFCE/REF has a right to have an OA policy, then it has the right to make a gold policy. If not, it doesn’t have the right to enforce a green policy. You can’t argue the “right” both ways.

      2) Does HEFCE/REF have the right to go against the wishes of the academic and institutional communities that voiced opposition to having deposits at the date of acceptance? I saw the published responsers, and the majority favoured date of publication, because there is much less that the institution can do to help ensure compliance with the policy – it’s largely down to the academic knowing and remembering to do the right thing.

      3) Does HEFCE/REF have the right to unilaterally subtract any amount from the UK research budget to support an OA policy in the instances where complying with the policy brings ZERO additional benefits? (e.g. an institution that publishes entirely gold OA publications).

      I would say the answer to all of those is “No” as well. Which then brings us to what the policy could have been. Which is either:

      1) Publications can only be submitted if they were made freely available at the first legal opportunity – either via institutional or subject repository or publisher site – with extra credit for institutional repository deposits at date of acceptance, or for gold OA.

      It would be cheaper because it doesn’t require anyone to do anything that doesn’t provide an additional benefit, and because it does not extend its remit beyond any funder requirement.

      Institutions will still want to chase the extra credit of early deposit though, providing an incentive to encourage deposit at the “most optimal” time, but they would still have an incentive to chase up and provide appropriate access post-publication if it hadn’t been, which is actually what people who need access care about (it doesn’t matter if it was put in there on acceptance or publication if I can’t access it until an embargo has expired)


      2) Simply create central repository(ies) and have publishers deposit the appropriate version at an appropriate time, with the ability to self-deposit for journals that aren’t involved – less cost, less waste, higher coverage. And more useful for people trying to gain access to the content than being spread across many institutional repositories.

      Note, I’m not advocating that the REF policy should be Gold. (If anything, I would say that OA policy should be funder driven, and REF could reinforce it, not interfere with it).

      The point is that there are more factors involved than simply saying this is how we think the APCs would be, so that’s how much we are saving.

      Even the report that you linked to earlier throws up so many questions – the Green OA costs are observed, but under conditions where deposits are infrequent and largely optional by people that want to do it. How that actually scales to all publications, when academics don’t necessarily want to engage or know what to do, when the file submitted may be the wrong one, when the limited metadata captured at acceptance has to be supplemented later…

      It’s very unlikely to be a straight multiple of the amount, and the current cost isn’t really indicative.

      • Yes, OK, I accept that the answer to my ‘spanners’ isn’t a straight ‘no’. Things are never that black and white, even if we sometimes wish they were. 🙂

        The power that policymakers have in these situations is affected by a number of factors, including the legal framework, the views of the community, the policy aim being pursued, the effectiveness and costs of the various options, the political risks, the instructions received from others (e.g. ‘open access should be a condition of research assessment’, which was a written condition of BIS grant funding to HEFCE), the latitude to tweak policy parameters to deliver more effective outcomes (e.g. timing of deposit), and a judgement of ‘red line’ issues for the affected stakeholders (e.g. the unacceptability of transferring £200m+ research funding straight to publishers that would arise from a very strict ‘gold’ policy of the sort that I describe in the main post).

        I’d definitely agree that REF has the right to say ‘no, you can’t come in if your papers are not OA’ (with some flexibility, of course, as that was very vocally argued for by academics, institutions and publishers). I’d disagree that this is the same as forcing all UK papers OA, even those that are not submitted to the REF – I don’t think UK research funders have a mandate to take that kind of action for indirectly funded research, and it wouldn’t feel like a REF policy if they did. This is a bit of a grey area, of course, but having read 460 responses to the REF OA consultations, I think the community would probably agree with me.

        Personally – and this is all ‘personally’, isn’t it? – I can see some benefits to your proposal. It’s not Bill Gates, which I hope we agree wouldn’t work for the REF. I can see some drawbacks, e.g. the difficulty of drawing clear parameters around ‘first legal opportunity’, or the cost and difficulty of setting up a central repository service. That’s just on a quick reading, though – this blog is intended to give me and others a space to explore ideas, and it’d be fun to think about all of that a bit more.

        As it happens, I’m quite sanguine about how things have turned out. I think the simplicity of the REF rules, as they’re set up now, will drive compliance to a very high level, and along the way they’ll help to create a healthier culture. The rules could doubtless be adjusted to better fulfil the specific wishes of one or two stakeholders – and in doing so, they’d probably piss a few other people off. This is a difficult area where careful balance is needed, and (though it feels a bit grim to use one’s personal blog to stick up for one’s employer) I’d say that the wide backing the REF policy has had from affected stakeholders shows that the funding councils have probably got it broadly right.

  7. “I’d definitely agree that REF has the right to say ‘no, you can’t come in if your papers are not OA’”

    Personally, I would say otherwise. I don’t think REF should be saying that, but in order to see OA policy enacted, I’m happy for REF to have a role.

    But I certainly agree that REF can say “no, you can’t come in if you haven’t met your funder requirements (including OA)”. There is a subtle but important difference in reinforcing a criteria and establishing your own.

    And leaving it to the funder to determine the OA policy has a number of advantages – it can be tailored as appropriate for the field (e.g. it’s far more important for medical research to be published gold and/or deposited in PubMed Central than an institutional repository from the point of view of somebody trying to obtain access, but that’s not relevant to humanities).

    And the funder has more immediate contact with the academic to ensure compliance and penalise (e.g. withhold funding), than a REF submission 5 years away.

    This would be less of an issue if the funder and REF policies were perfectly in alignment. But it’s possible to fulfil REF policies without fulfilling the funder (e.g. where gold is prefered), and possible to fulfil funder policies without fulfilling REF (e.g. gold or institutional deposit outside of 3 month window).

    Simplicity of a policy is important, but there is a question of who it is being made simple for. For an academic, it doesn’t matter if there are different policies for different fields, because you are only concerned with your own. A consistent policy across fields is useful for an institution, but as it stands whilst institutions can advocate for the policy, there is little they can do to ensure compliance, only monitor it. That may be a significant problem in getting a high level of compliance.

    I agree that “Bill Gates” is not necessarily a policy that would work for REF, but it’s a policy that could work at a funder level for certain fields.

    And I hope that we would agree that if there was simply a high level of compliance for existing funder policies, without a different standard of REF compliance, would be a major benefit for OA.

    Backing for the policy can take a wide range of opinions. I, for example, back that it is better that there is an OA component of REF than it not being present at all, even if I believe that it could have been improved. It’s notable that the loudest voices of support are from people that want compliance with the REF policy, and not have compliance with funder policies.

    • You make some good points. Be mindful, though, that REF covers a much wider range of research papers, and people, than receive project funding from other funders. For instance, project funding (e.g. from AHRC) accounts for only 20% of research in the arts and humanities. So if REF were only to reinforce other funder policies, instead of introducing its own, it would have quite a major difference.

      • True. I would note though that we would largely be talking about fields where the appropriateness of OA is, globally, contentious.

        The Hefce grant letter for this year states: “Increasing Open Access (OA) to research outputs is a key Government objective which should be supported by research assessment methodology and by the QR research funding stream in due course.” – which would be consistent with reinforcing funder policies and not being too worried about research that falls outside of that.

      • Graham – sorry for replying above your comment, we’ve run out of nesting! On the grant letter point, please be assured that it means something much stronger than you think. I’m currently covering the role of head of policy for university research and knowledge exchange at BIS so I know how the request is being viewed in government. On the disciplinary point, I’d say that (a) the humanities stand to benefit just as much from OA as other disciplines, even if it is contentious in some quarters (although they seem to be quite satisfied with the REF policy); but that’s largely moot because (b) it is not just HSS disciplines that have non-total direct funding coverage – there is a very good cross-section of indirectly funded research activity across the disciplines. One of the strengths of the REF is that it reaches parts of the research base that other policies cannot reach (with apols to Heineken).


    For the interested reader, the rebuttal to every single one of Graham Triggs’s points, without exception, is already there in my previous comment (updated and hyperlinked here: http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/1135-.html) of which neither Graham nor Ben seems to have taken notice.

    To recap the highlights: (1) each institutional repository’s copy-request Button takes care of researcher access needs during any allowable publisher OA embargo — and once HEFCE/REF-model immediate-deposit is universally mandated that will be enough not only to provide access but to allow universal subscription cancelation and forced conversion to fair gold and CC-BY; (2) what is urgent (and long overdue, mainly because of endless repetition of these same points and counterpoints for 2 decades now) is access itself, not CC-BY, which is certainly not worth the price of fool’s gold; (3) the problem of hybrid fool’s gold is definitely not solved by a 100% rebate of the gold fee, because (N-1)/N of that rebate just becomes a subsidy to the other N-1 subscribing institutions, not to the sucker paying for the fool’s gold, who gets back only 1/Nth of it (6%, if the sucker were the UK); (4) universities have created institutional repositories for multiple purposes, OA being only one of them, but what is certain is that the annual repository cost per paper is trivially small compared to the cost per paper for fool’s gold.

    I would be very interested, however, if Graham would indeed “name at least one institution that was all set to ditch their repository as all of their content is covered by gold publishing.” I cannot imagine that this institution is a university, let alone a UK university. Maybe it’s a small biomedical research institute funded mostly by the Wellcome Trust?

    • Stevan, you make an excellent set of points. Particularly interesting to me is the notion that ‘offsetting’ schemes, even those that look quite generous on the face of it (like RSC, who offer APC vouchers equal to the full subscription rate of a given institution), are still set up to replace subscriptions with APCs at the 100% level.

      While it isn’t a professional mission of mine to drive down the cost of scholarly communication at the expense of all else, clearly one of the most compelling advantages of your 100% green-leveraged transition idea is that it offers an opportunity to make the whole of scholarly publishing much cheaper than it is now. We should always be mindful that the price of OA publishing in ‘top’ journals can reach into the £000’s but the cost of posting in a repository is £33, and posting on the arXiv costs just $7 (as I read somewhere the other day). A case for the marginal benefit of spending those extra thousands of pounds on gold fees has, as far as I’m aware, not been made – even if that marginal benefit includes CC BY.

      As I’ve argued before in this blog, I’m not convinced that journal publishing need do much more than referee articles and stamp them with their brand sticker. So, while the system probably won’t ever get down to being just $7 per article, there are strong public policy reasons why funders of research would not be averse to an outcome that managed to do away with a lot of the superfluities that surround that most highly affected of artefacts, the “version of record”. (I do think there is a good strategic argument for wanting CC BY, though, if perhaps there is no economic or financial case.)

      Most interestingly for the neutral, the success criterion of such a green-leveraged transition is identical to the success criterion of a gold future: both require ~100% uptake, globally. So this makes for an interesting fight, doesn’t it? 🙂

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