Q. Please can you tell us a little about your current position and responsibilities?
A. I’m Director of Research Innovation & Skills for HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council of England), with responsibility for research funding, assessment, knowledge exchange, and skills. I’m also responsible for the Catalyst Fund (which supports innovative projects from English universities) and the Research Partnership Investment Fund (which funds private/university partnerships for major infrastructure projects).
Q. What is your background and how does that help in your current role?
A. I am a statistician who was formerly Vice-Principal at Royal Holloway, University of London, with responsibility for the same areas. Before that, I was Director of Information Services, responsible for the libraries and IT.
Q. HEFCE's OA policy for the REF post 2014 was announced recently - how much did the policy change as a result of the consultation?
A. We had a two-phased consultation – in the first phase we established some general principles, for which we received wide approval; the second phase dealt with the complex implementation issues, especially compliance. We were particularly concerned to ensure that academics’ best work could be submitted to the REF and that universities would be able to support their academics in finding the best way to publish their work, rather than this becoming an area of tension. We received input from around 200 individuals, learned societies, universities, publishers, and others, and were able to develop solutions based on some very clever ideas from them about how to develop policy that would work for all parties.
Q. The HEFCE policy is seen as being Green. Will more be done to facilitate Gold?
A. We don’t see our policy as favorable to either route to OA and, in fact, we have deliberately avoided use of the word ‘preference’. We wanted to develop a policy that allowed people to choose every possible way of making their material available OA.
Q. It also mandates HEIs to post all output (Green and Gold). Is there still scope for a CHORUS-style approach, i.e. centralized metadata on the HEI's repository linking to the full text article on the publisher's platform?
A. There is no CHORUS-like (or indeed SHARE-like) solution readily available now, and we need to provide a mechanism for people to be able to plan their submissions for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to take place around 2020. The focus of HEFCE’s OA policy is research assessment, which we anticipate will include receiving journal articles for assessment. Since the UK already has a strong repository infrastructure, with increasing levels of interoperability, we believe that a system built around repositories is the right solution for implementing HEFCE policy. In due course other methods may become available but we needed to have a solution in place now. In time, we hope that publishers will find ways to work together to feed accurate metadata into institutional repositories for green OA. Shared publisher systems like CHORUS become increasingly useful as gold OA becomes more widespread.
Q. Given the different policies in place from different funders, how will researchers know which mandate to follow - for example, should a UK researcher receiving funding from Horizon 2020 follow the HEFCE or H2020 requirements?
A. Our policy is consistent with those of all major funders. The embargo periods we have chosen (12 months for STM, 24 for AHSS), and the licensing parameters we have set, are at outer boundaries. Some funders do have shorter periods and insist on particular licenses but that doesn’t preclude articles deriving from research that they’ve funded from being included in our assessment exercise.
Q. How much influence do organizations like the Global Research Council and Science Europe have on HEFCE's decision making and vice versa?
A. We keep well in touch with the other parties in scholarly publishing globally, but we are coming at this from the perspective of the UK REF, which looks at the quality of research. So our prime concern is to implement government policy (by encouraging OA) and, at same time, to do so in a way that is manageable by both academics and their institutions. Government sets the policy but implementation is done via the funding bodies, universities, and academics serving on the review panels. We did take close note of what organizations like the Global Research Council, European Research Council, and Science Europe were doing, but we don’t particularly seek to influence them, because they have their own requirements.
Q. You mentioned at a recent talk that OA is not a cost cutting exercise - please can you expand on that?
A. Our prime objective is to have articles resulting from research carried out in UK universities made freely available for dissemination. The economic benefits of greater access to research publications far outweigh any additional costs of providing OA. We do understand that some people see OA as an opportunity to cut the cost of the current publishing system, but we believe that if you make this the top priority it will be harder to achieve free availability, which is our top priority. Once the world is mainly OA there will be many more publishing options available – publishers and learned societies have already changed their policies in response to funder requirements, and they are developing many new options (especially for Gold OA). So we are not looking to make savings now but expect that this will happen in future.
Q. What do you see as the biggest remaining challenges for implementing OA in the UK?
A. One significant difficulty is around implementation practices, mainly due to misunderstandings around motives. There needs to be a concerted effort to implement OA policies rigorously and to eliminate those misunderstandings. Another challenge is the widespread perception that hybrid OA is leading to increased costs as a result of double-dipping. This is seriously inhibiting the adoption of gold OA, and if publishers want to achieve greater uptake of gold OA then they must address that perception.
Q. You've also talked about the importance of collaboration - of all parties working together to implement OA rather than fighting for their particular brand of OA. What do you see as the biggest opportunities?
A. The current system has worked well because it has offered clear benefits to all parties involved; if we are to adjust the system so that OA is at its heart, we must do so in a way that provides sufficient opportunities for all. Realistically, commercial publishers and learned societies will continue to be part of the landscape – indeed, probably a very major part of it – for many years to come. I want the community to move away from using OA as a stick to beat publishers with, because this only makes it more difficult for them to produce the innovative solutions we all need to further OA. To this end, we have listened to publishers’ concerns about embargo periods, so we are giving them time to see that shorter embargoes won’t be damaging (as we believe is the case). We are also sensitive to the concerns of academics – particularly those in the arts and humanities – who may need more time to find their place within a more mature OA landscape. We also want universities to have the lowest possible administrative and financial burden.
Q. Any final thoughts?
A. Our view of OA will be transformed if the academic community and universities take advantage of the OA options that are already on offer, because a very high proportion of material produced in the UK is already potentially REF 2020 compliant. The community will then be in a very different position to think through whether the gold model is right for the long-term future of scholarly publishing. But for now, our main priority should be to take advantage of what’s already possible– then we can really start to think about how to move forward.