An alliance of six leading UK medical research charities, including the Wellcome Trust, recently announced the establishment of The Charity Open Access Fund (COAF). COAF became operational October 1st, 2014 and is being administered by the Wellcome Trust. We had the chance to catch-up with the Wellcome Trust’s Policy Advisor, David Carr, to learn more.
Q. First of all David, thank you for speaking with us. To start, tell us about COAF, why has this fund been set up? What triggered it?
A. COAF is a partnership between six UK medical research charities – Arthritis Research UK, Breast Cancer Campaign, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and the Wellcome Trust – to enable publications resulting from the research we support to be made immediately and freely available to access and re-use.
The partner charities are committed to maximizing the societal benefit that flows from the research we fund. Making the publications resulting from our funding available in open access form ensures that the knowledge they contain can be accessed and used freely to advance research and its application for health benefit. It also enables our donors as well as the broader public to directly access the outputs of the research they support.
An increasing number of journals are offering open access models where, in return for the up-front payment of an article-processing charge (APC), they will make articles freely available upon publication with a license that permits re-use. This meets our desire for immediate open access, and potentially provides a sustainable model that allows the costs of publication to be meet. Clearly, however, it requires researchers and their institutions to be able to access funds to meet these costs. Through COAF we are working in partnership to enable our researchers to publish via this route.
Q. How did these six medical charities come together and why have they opted to set up a joint fund for open access payments?
A. Earlier this year, the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) – of which our six organizations are members – convened an open access working group, which brought together our six charities and a number of others. There was a strong desire to work in partnership and the idea for establishing a joint fund emerged fairly early in these discussions. As a first step in exploring this, we agreed a series of principles that should underpin our approach – including: minimizing burden on both the partner charities and our researchers; enabling us to plan financially for supporting open access; and increasing compliance with our open access policies (and hence increasing the volume of publications available in open access form). A common joint fund provided the best fit to these criteria. Given the large amount of overlap between the research communities we fund, it also reflects that a high proportion of the publications that result from our funding report on research that has been supported by more than one charity.
Q. COAF FAQs state that you hope that other Association of Medical Research Charities members will join the Fund over time. There are 126 members, so why have only 6 joined COAF so far?
A. Different AMRC charities are at different points in developing their policies and approaches to open access. In addition, many AMRC charities have very limited research budgets. It is entirely understandable and appropriate that many AMRC charities wish to see how the pilot develops before making a decision to join.
Q. What can the ~ 12 million fund be used for?
A. COAF funds may be used to meet open access costs associated with original peer-reviewed research articles and non-commissioned review articles, where the work described has been supported by one or more of the partner charities. Funds may not be used for any open access costs associated with commissioned reviews or conference proceedings.
COAF funds may only be used to pay open access article processing charges, not to cover other charges that some journals may levy, such as page and color charges.
Where an APC is paid from COAF, the journal must: (a) deposit, on behalf of the author, the final version of the article - which includes all the changes that arise from the peer-review, copy-editing and proofing processes - in PubMed Central (PMC), where it must be made freely available at the time of publication (a link to the article on the publisher site is not sufficient); and (b) License the content under a Creative Commons Attribution-only (CC-BY) licence.
(Note: The majority of journals* in Wiley's open access program (including OnlineOpen) will now offer authors funded by one of the COAF charities the opportunity to publish their articles under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license when paying the article publication charge.
*A limited number of society-owned journals may opt out of this new license policy.)
Q. Are there any restrictions on the amount of article publication charges charged by publishers?
A. Not at this stage, although this will be kept under review. More generally, we have been clear that - in making this funding available – we have expectations of publishers to provide high quality services and value-for-money, and to be transparent in terms of their business models. We are particularly concerned that journals offering hybrid open access models are able to demonstrate that universities are not paying twice to access content through APCs and subscriptions.
Q. The Wellcome Trust will administer COAF on behalf of the partners for the pilot phase. How will Wellcome Trust administer the fund and monitor the funds from each University?
A. The block awards through COAF will operate in the same way as the current Wellcome Trust block award funding for open access. Universities in receipt of block awards are advised of their allocation at the beginning of the financial year, and claim the funds quarterly in arrears as actual expenditure is incurred. At the end of the year, all universities will be required to submit a report itemising expenditure against the block award (including details of the APC paid for each paper, and which partner charities supported each paper).
Q. How will the fund make open access publishing easier for researchers?
A. We hope that having a single, shared approach as a group of funders will make things more straightforward for both our researchers and institutions – particularly in terms of reducing the need to negotiate different funder requirements. Indeed, as part of the process for establishing COAF, the six partners have worked to align our open access policies – so that we have a clear and consistent set of expectations.
Q. This fund enables UK researchers to take the Gold open access route. What are your thoughts about funders in the UK paying for open access through funds like COAF when many other countries are supporting a green OA route and not providing specific funds for open access fees?
A. I can’t speak for the partner charities on this, but the Wellcome Trust strongly supports the position of the UK government. We believe the gold model provides a sustainable model to support immediate open access, while recognizing that publishing has a cost, and that it is important to make the funding available now to researchers to use this route.
It’s important to emphasize that researchers can still comply with the policies of the partner charities through the green self-archiving route, where the journal allows this, as long as they make the final reviewed author manuscript openly available no longer than six months after the data of publication. Of course, as you say, COAF funds may only be used to support APCs for the gold route.
(Note: If an author funded by one of the COAF charities chooses to publish in a Wiley journal* that does not offer an open access option the author will be able to self-archive the accepted version of the article after an embargo period of 6 or 12 months, depending on the journal subject area.
*A limited number of society-owned journals have alternative self-archiving policies.)
Q. What are the plans for the future as regards to open access policy and the fund itself?
A. We’ll review the Fund after the first year and take it from there. We also hope very much that other AMRC charities will join in future years.
From the Wellcome Trust’s point of view, we remain fully committed to supporting open access. The Wellcome Trust is increasingly looking at how we as funders can work to help ensure that the future market for open access APCs offers quality and value-for-money for the research community. A report we commissioned in partnership with others (including RCUK, JISC, Research Libraries UK) and published earlier this year set out initial scenarios in this regard, which we are actively exploring.
Q. Where can authors find more information on how they can access COAF funds?
A. If you are based at one of the 36 universities and research institutes in receipt of a COAF block award, please contact the institution directly. If you are unsure who the appropriate contact at your institution is, please contact the Wellcome Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, please feel free to contact me directly (email@example.com) with any questions on COAF or the information above.
Thank you again, David. We look forward to the future of COAF!