Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom

This is the text of a document prepared by Meera and me on Article Processing Charges as currently understood and the serious risks we think they pose to academic freedom and funding, broadly understood (previous discussed by several contributors to our open access series). It is also available as a pdf, and we encourage academics to think carefully about the issues foregrounded, and to act accordingly.

Applegarth Press


  • The Government is pushing academic publishing to a ‘pay-to-say’ model in order to achieve open access to publicly funded research
  • This ‘gold’ route to open access, which levies Article Processing Charges (as proposed in the Finch Report and taken up by RCUK and HEFCE) poses a major problem for academics in the UK:
    • It threatens academic freedom through pressures on institutions to distribute scarce APC resources and to judge work by standards other than peer review
    • It threatens research funding by diverting existing funds into paying for publications (and private journal profits) rather than into research
    • It increases academic inequality both across and within institutions, by linking prestige in research and publishing to the capacity to pay APCs, rather than to academic qualities
    • It threatens academic control of research outputs by allowing for commercial uses without author consent
  • In response, academics should:
    • Practice and lobby for ‘green’ open access of all post-peer reviewed work within journals and institutions
    • Lobby against proposed restrictions on REF2020 and against compliance pressure for ‘gold’ open access
    • Demand clear policies from Universities around open access funds
    • Ensure institutional resources are not unnecessarily spent on APCs
    • Protect the integrity of scholarly journals by rejecting the pressure for ‘pay-to-say’ publishing

Open Access: Rushing Implementation

Many academics have been ardent supporters of the open access principle (that peer-reviewed academic work should be freely available and easily accessible to anyone), and were excited when the Government made steps to advance it. However, it has become clear that the implementation of this policy via REF2020 will have very serious negative consequences for all academic authors and institutions, unless authors and institutions themselves start to take action and make their voices heard. It is critical that academics understand what is happening and lobby our pro-VCs of Research, our VCs and Universities UK to defend both academic freedom and open access.

The timescale for action and decision-making is now incredibly short. Several policies, including that of the Government and of RCUK were declared immediately with the release of the Finch Report, totally accepting its views without wider consultation. HEFCE is going to open and close a very quick consultation period early in 2013 in order to issue guidance ahead of REF2020. Some universities have been given until March 2013 to determine what to do with open access funds that they were given in November. And it was only on 29 November 2012 that the first indications from HEFCE were given as to their intentions, at the Academy of Social Sciences (ACSS) conference on Implementing Finch. The timetable for finalising the details of this complex policy is thus extremely short and does not allow for adequate discussion of its serious consequences. Despite this, academics can still play an important role in resisting the threats posed.

So, What is Happening?

In summary, academic journals are being moved from a ‘pay-to-read’ model to a ‘pay-to-say’ model.

Journal publishers are to start charging Article Processing Charges (APCs) to authors and/or their institutions, which will make the articles freely available and re-useable to and by the general public, as long as there is attribution to the original author. The view taken by the Finch Report is that this offers a sustainable long-term model to support revenue streams in academic publishing. This combination of per article payments and open access is usually referred to as the ‘gold’ model. Estimates for APCs are very unclear but currently range from £500-£5,000 per published article. The Wellcome Trust figure, used by the Report for its calculations, was £1,450. All Government policy is now strongly in favour of promoting ‘gold’ open access.

However, the report also argues for a ‘mixed economy’, where ‘green’ open access is available. ‘Green’ open access involves making articles available through institutional or subject repositories, in either ‘pre-print’, ‘pre-review’ or ‘original submission’ forms (and occasionally in full ‘final’ form) depending on publisher and journal. This may mean that the full Version of Record (VoR) reviewed article remains behind a journal paywall for either an embargo period of between 6 and 18 months, or permanently. Many institutions now host repositories and have been using them to collect data for the REF.

£10m ‘kick-start’ funds have been divided between thirty ‘research-intensive’ universities decide how to pursue open access in their own institutions – money which has been reallocated for this purpose from the existing science budget. It is expected that whilst some money will go on strengthening their repositories, most will create Institutional Publication Funds which will pay some of the costs of APCs. For universities without the ‘kick-start’ grant, money will have to be found from their existing research budgets.

Serious Threats for Academics and Institutions

There are four clear threats here for authors and universities from a system which is pushing towards ‘gold’ open access: a serious and sustained threat to academic freedom, the wasting of research money and academic time, the entrenchment of inequality between institutions and researchers, and less control over the uses of research outputs.

  • Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is compromised by a ‘pay-to-say’ system, because institutions and academics will have to bid for the funds to publish their work. This means for academics that unless they are rich enough to pay for the publication of their own research, they will have to convince non-expert committees of the value of pre-published work, and compete against other University colleagues for funds. They will be restricted as to what they can publish and where. It is clear that Institutional Publication Committees will have to ration funds in line with pressures for REF and impact, meaning that lots of potentially valuable work will go unfunded.

This approach also assumes that such funds are available in-house; for the majority of cash-strapped universities they will not be, meaning that many of their academics may simply not be able to publish at all in the journals of their choice. Additionally, many non-UK journals may not be Open-Access compliant, preventing UK academics from publishing in them. UK journals will also be under pressure to select research according to whether APCs can be paid, instead of simply taking the best quality research. Overall, a ‘pay-to-say’ system undermines the core principle that expert peer review is the primary filter for publishing in academic journal.

  • Wasting Resources

There is a huge shortfall in the money being provided to kick-start open access, and the amount which would be required to fund current research outputs. Professor Tim Blackman, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research Scholarship and Quality) at the Open University has estimated that to get to the minimum suggested 45% level for ‘gold’ open access, his university would have to find an extra £740,000 per annum, possibly rising to £1.6m per annum. For all institutions, these will have to be found from already tight budgets, wasting money that could be spent on research itself or other scholarly activities.

Administering Institutional Publication Funds will also take up vast quantities of academic and administrative time, as non-expert committees will have to make impossibly contentious decisions about colleagues’ pre-published work. REF panels have found this difficult enough despite having more disciplinary expertise and often seeing the work after the improvements of peer review. The job of Institutional Publication Fund committees will be exponentially harder, and they will by definition be badly placed to judge the work on its quality. Moreover, important ambiguities will have to be resolved: will work that has received reject or revise decisions from journals be eligible for further APCs? Which institutions will be responsible for APCs in the case of multi-authored papers? And will institutions be able to reclaim APC costs if Faculty change institutions before the completion of a Research Excellence Framework (REF) cycle?

  • Academic Inequality

Under the ‘pay-to-say’ system, it is the wealthiest, rather than the best, individuals and institutions who will be able to dominate publishing. This poses serious problems for the overall quality of research output, which is currently underpinned by the principle that the best research emerges on its own academic merit. This will become more deeply entrenched as subsequent rounds of the REF become geared towards the ‘pay-to-say’ model.

More substantially, it poses enormous problems for the academic ‘poor’ – the early career researchers writing PhDs, retired academics, independent scholars, NGO researchers, and anybody at an institution without the inclination to pay for their research. This will suppress the development of academic talent in the long run, suppress the publication of the excellent work that emerges post-retirement, and suppress the work of any scholars outside identified ‘research-intensive’ institutions. This will entrench a plutocracy rather than a meritocracy in the publication of academic research.

  • Control Over Research Outputs

Under the ‘gold’ system, it is intended that work is available under a ‘CC-BY’ copyright licence, which means that as long as it is attributed, work can be remixed, re-purposed and re-used by anybody, including for commercial purposes. By contrast, most academic work in repositories operates under a non-commercial and non-derivative licence, which means that it cannot be re-used for commercial purposes, and that work cannot be remixed or repurposed in ways not authorised by the author. The ‘gold’ system effectively removes many of the key rights of authors over their work, and is strongly opposed by the British Copyright Council.

Although there are important arguments to be made here for the public benefits of sharing research, particularly science, this has clear consequences for universities who may want to develop the commercial purposes of research for themselves. It also affects who want to retain the right to royalties from the reproduction of their works and to manage the intellectual context in which their work may be reproduced.

Compliance Routes

Overall, the pressure to move to ‘gold’ then has incredibly serious consequences for researchers and institutions. From the Government, compliance pressure will be applied directly to academic institutions and researchers through the policies of two key funding bodies: RCUK and HEFCE. It is critical that academics and institutions get to grips with these policies as soon as possible.

RCUK policy was published in July, very quickly in the footsteps of the Finch Report. RCUK have also administered and announced the ‘kick-start’ funds this November. During the November 2012 ACSS conference, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE Paul Hubbard said that this would be the broad template for HEFCE and they would be seeking to make any returns for REF2020 compliant with this policy.

  • RCUK Policy

RCUK policy states that any peer-reviewed journal articles resulting from RCUK funded research must be published in open-access compliant journals.

Journals are defined as open-access compliant:

  1. If they offer ‘gold’ publishing, i.e. making work available under a CC-BY licence, paid for by an APC
  2. If they do not offer this option, they must allow post-peer reviewed work (incorporating changes but not necessarily publishers’ pdf) available for self-archiving within 6 months (12 months for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) without an APC.

RCUK grant-funded research cannot be published in other journals. The intended consequences of this policy are to encourage journals to charge APCs to make the work available, i.e. to make them ‘pay-to-say’. Although these are presented as ‘options’, one is the ‘option’ to collect a revenue, whereas the other is not. In concrete terms, this means that journals will be under pressure to ‘become compliant’ by charging authors APCs where possible. This in principle allows commercially-minded journals to maintain embargo periods on work whose authors cannot afford APCs, blocking ‘green’ self-archiving.

RCUK has stated that “the RCUK preference is for Gold open access, but that where a journal offers both Gold and Green the choice lies with the researcher and his/her institution”. However, it is easy to predict that this will not be much of a ‘choice’ in practice. These charges are currently separately chargeable in RCUK budgets, but in the future they will come directly from the research funds. People in receipt of RCUK funds will therefore have to choose very carefully where they publish, based on whether they have enough funds to cover publication.

However, this policy covers only a small overall proportion of ‘publicly funded’ research in the UK, and would not in itself lead to a change in the overall publishing system. There continue to be real ambiguities as to whether ‘funded’ research will mean only project-specific grants, or whether it will in the future be used to mean work undertaken in any institution receiving general research funds. However, applying it to the REF2020 is seen as the real lever for change.

  • Enforcement Through REF2020

HEFCE have not yet released a definite paper on its likely policy for REF2020, but have indicated strongly that it will apply the same definitions and criteria for compliance as RCUK. It will consult on this in early 2013. HEFCE maintains that this allows institutional choice because it claims REF ratings are given to the actual work and not the ranking of the journals in which work is published. Thus, particular journals are not assumed to have a stranglehold over the market, and journals are imagined to compete to price their APCs competitively. Thus it is imagined that institutions and researchers can choose the publication outlets of their choosing depending on their own funding situations, and that journals will compete to lower APC charges.

However, anyone remotely connected to the REF knows that this does not reflect practice and that journal names themselves matter a great deal to panels. Thus, it is extremely likely that the higher ranked UK journals will be incentivised to charge higher APCs than others, meaning that access to publication is blocked for those without funds.

A huge ambiguity remains over what to do with research published in the top journals abroad – if these remain non-compliant, as many US-based journals currently are, institutions may not be able to return this work for the REF. There is also a big question over what to do with overseas submitters who have either no need or no ability to pay APCs. If UK journals do not attract these submissions, the overall standing and quality of the research published by our journals will fall.

What Needs To Be Done Immediately

Universities, particularly senior management:

  • Raise awareness within the sector and share your concerns with colleagues at other HEIs
  • Work with Universities UK to develop a collective response to the HEFCE consultation on REF2020 that raises these issues in the strongest possible terms
    • Lobby for the broadest possible definition of open access to allow all of the best research to be returned, regardless of where it is published
  • Develop institutional policies on open access which protect academic freedom, research budgets, and the ability of all researchers to publish in the best possible outlets:
    • Clarify current and proposed open access and APC policies to all academic staff, endorsing the use of repositories for post-peer review work as standard practice
    • Guarantee the protection of teaching and research budgets
    • Commit to an equitable distribution of funds between different disciplines, career stages and research programmes
    • Ensure that any arrangements for APC funding will comply fully with statutes on and principles of academic freedom. The best guarantee of this would be that any choices over the content and publication site of research should only be undertaken by authors themselves
    • Make criteria for APC funding extremely transparent, and only available as an absolutely last resort where repository archiving is an unavailable option for compliance
    • Strengthen the usage of repositories by researchers, through an opt-out rather than opt-in scheme, with full Version of Record as far as possible
    • Investigate the possibility of a Harvard-style policy which asserts a non-exclusive licence to put work in the institutional repository. The legal status of this policy is unclear but could save millions in the long run. This already also applies to biomedical research funded by the US Government, which must appear on PubMed


  • Raise awareness about these issues within Departments, Schools, Faculties and the most senior management of your institution. Forward this paper to all internal and external colleagues
  • Refuse to serve on Institutional Publication Fund committees which do not protect academic freedoms and equality
  • Protect the scholarly integrity and international reputation of journals by rejecting the ‘pay-to-say’ model:
    • As Editors, only work with publishers who currently allow policy-compliant ‘self-archiving’ (i.e. sufficiently short embargo period of post-peer review work). This currently includes many of the top University Press publishers, and is a viable business model until such time as library subscriptions cease (if they ever do)
    • As Editors, do not make editorial decisions based on the payability of APCs
    • As peer reviewers, withdraw labour from ‘pay-to-say’ journals that do not allow authors to self-archive post-peer reviewed work
    • As authors, do not submit to ‘APC only’ journals. Avoid the payment of APCs as far as possible, and self-archive all work in institutional repositories
    • As disciplinary communities, pressure top journals to avoid ‘pay-to-say’ funding models
  • Protect learned societies by diversifying funding away from streams provided by commercial publishing


The movement to ‘pay-to-say’ journals poses a serious threat to academic freedom, research funding, and the sustenance of a meritocracy in the publishing of research. But it can only happen if academics let it happen. We, not the government nor the publishers, ultimately control the journals. The entire system depends on the unpaid editorial, reviewing and authorial labour that academics provide. We are also the ones who negotiate deals with publishers. We are also going to be responsible for ‘implementing’ open access at our institutions, and for managing our budgets. We must thus use our personal energies, authority and leadership wherever possible to ensure that we protect the freedoms to write and publish the best research. And we must do so in ways that ensure and extend principles of open access and public knowledge, without further cuts to research budgets. The future of our sector depends very much on what we do now.

Further Links

Finch Report and Government Response:

RCUK policy, including current funding allocations:

HEFCE funding system:

Harvard’s Open Access Policy:


67 thoughts on “Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom

  1. Pingback: The open access debate continues… | Thinking culture

  2. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | VIRALITY

  3. This is brilliant article, it summarises nicely the issues that the changes are raising. Your points are clear and concise. I make a few comments here just for food for thought.

    While I have concerns about the proposals – and what is now happening – it is stirring the waters from a very very broken model. When we talk about ‘who pays’ we must remember we are not talking about the research, nor the peer review, nor the role of Editor of a collection of articles, all of which are not normally funded from journal costs, the ‘pay’ is for the administrative processes of connecting researcher, editor, and peer reviewers; making it presentable for reading; and disseminating it (today, dissemination is almost exclusively online, printed journals are becoming a fringe method). The processes of taking a submitted paper from a researcher and turning it in to a peer reviewed piece of writing is becoming increasingly automated and efficient (except of course the actual process of reviewing, which as noted, is not included in the cost), and hosting content online becomes forever cheaper.

    APCs have many faults, but have many advantages of the current system. I also wonder if the scholarly communication system continues to change beyond moving to APCs.

    I also have some reservations about Green in the long term. First, let me say, I think Green should be just an absolute norm. If I read about an organisation (thank tank, etc) publishing some research I just presume there website is the first place to access it. Green is a no-brainer. However Green does not change the current model, it’s just a (very good) addition to the current system. My problem is, while researchers hand over their copyright to publishers (which they must with the current system), it is in the publishers gift to allow authors to upload their work to their own institutions website. We can bet the moment Green hits critical mass and starts to hit journal subscriptions, is the point publishers take away this gift. Of course, any talk of forcing publishers, or only publishing in those journals which allow Green, have the same issues as you outline for Gold, it restricts where academics can publish.

    Regarding Academic Control and commercial use:
    The problem with ‘non-commercial use’ is it is ambiguous. I have no problem with an organisation using research to better their products and services (I see this a very good thing), nor with disseminating it whole. I hadn’t realised they intend for Gold publications to be ‘remixed, re-purposed’ I think there are concerns here that need looking in to. Though at the same time, I have no issues with any person or organisation, for example, using tables or large quotes from an article with attribution. We should not restrict people to just using an article whole or not at all, but the balance needs to be right.

    Regarding the REF2020 I will just note that the REF2014 went through radical change until around 2011, of course originally Bibliometrics was going to more or less replace panels, so I don’t think we should be too worried at this stage.

    I was going to note that if dissemination of research is seen as integral to the research process (which is surely is) then it is natural to budget for publication costs in any research funding application, and with that in mind, Academic freedom will not be compromised as the funding will come from the research grant, not from the University. However I note, if I have read correctly, you suggest that this will no longer be the case in the future. (‘These charges are currently separately chargeable in RCUK budgets, but in the future they will come directly from the research funds. ‘) – of course this is of little help to early career researchers who may not have research grant funding.

    Finally, you mention the £10 million ‘kick start’ fund for 30 universities. That’s ~£330,000 on average per university. If the average Gold APC is £2,000 the n that’s just 150 articles per University, not really a massive kick in my view!

    Chris Keene


  4. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Open is mightier |

  5. To expand on some of the effects of Open Access publication:

    A natural expectation would be that institutional journal subscriptions would cease, and that APC charging would replace them as a means of paying for publication. (If not, then publication is being funded twice over, though APC and subscription.) In turn, then, would we expect institutions to put their subscription payments back into funding research? How many of us are holding our breath waiting for this to happen?

    We have no control over the extension of Open Access to overseas researchers. If institutional subscriptions cease, the funds being diverted to pay APC, then we will no longer be able to obtain non-OA publications on line without paying per article charges. A researcher downloading several hundred articles each year, as I do, would incur several thousands of pounds in pay-per-article charges that are not incurred at present.

    Currently, some grantors (e.g. Wellcome Trust) will pay APC regardless of the proportion of support that they provided for the work to be published. Other grantors are not so generous, so that, whilst they require “Gold” Open Access publication, they will only pay for that proportion of any piece of work that they funded directly: if other agencies that do not pay APC were also involved in the work, the researcher is left to find the difference, and as stated above, this can be thousands of pound per article. In my experience of this research-intensive intensive university, no institutional contribution is available.

    Some agencies require APC costs to be included in grant applications, and will not pay more than the funds allocated. Directly or otherwise, the difference will come from the research grants in place at the time the charges are levied.

    I’m less concerned about research being made available to all for any purpose, including commercial use. Scientific research would usually be patented prior to publication where this was an important issue, which would provide protection. But in other disciplines where copyright is the more usual means of protecting intellectual property, this might be a greater concern.

    In short, the apparent benefits of Open Access will be dissipated unless Open Access is fully-funded and universally adopted.


    • Thanks Richard: I think this is all spot-on. Double payment (subscription and APC) seems to be a real short-term prospect, and one we should probably have flagged more strongly. Since much green OA is embargoed in its post peer-review version it also raises the prospect of unequal citation practice. If subscriptions cease, and you have the option of citing a paper in its full gold VoR form or of citing a similarly pitched paper which is available to you only in draft or pre-peer review form through green repository (with embargo on the final product) I would suggest you are more likely to cite the peer-reviewed ‘official’ paper, thereby further driving up citations to gold outlets (and perhaps then allowing them to charge still more in APCs).

      Your first point is particularly crucial. Any saved funds will only be re-invested in research and teaching in the current climate if there are strong academic coalitions in place to make sure that is the case. Hopefully this is a step in that direction.


  6. “Protect learned societies by diversifying funding away from streams provided by commercial publishing” Easy to say but very difficult to do. We need to remember that a large proportion of journal revenues are returned to the societies who own those journals. That return is then invested by them in the very communities we work in. When that revenue disappears so do they.

    I agree with everything this article says until I step back and realise that it still provides no solutions to the basic problem. The journals I submit to won’t survive the move to a 100% green or gold open access model. Gold means a social science journal might get £1500 per article and if they publish 30 articles a year they need to survive on on £45,000. This might sound a lot but when you add up Editor stipends, online hosting and digital development costs, editorial office administration costs, Scholar One hosting fees and all the other costs that are conveniently swept under the carpet and forgotten about, we risk killing the very journals we hold so dear. Yes, there will always be the PLoS One’s of this world, bank rolled by private science funds, and accepting papers on the basis of ‘scientific rigour’ rather than quality, but what about everyone else?

    If we don’t find a real solution to financially support the journals we publish in then there won’t be any left to submit to and any decisions about whether to publish in a green or gold model will be null and void. What then, we rely on a bunch of scattered and underfunded institutional repositories to provide us with the searching and discoverability of global research we have become so used to?


    • Thanks for the comment. I think your concerns are shared by many, and unfortunately the current moves don’t tackle the underlying problem, which in my view is the use of free academic labour for private profit, generated out of selling our own products back to us.

      This can all be very dispiriting, but it’s important to keep in mind the funds already in play. It appears that the total spend on journal access in the UK is currently in the region of £200 million: so the question is if that money was not spent on subscription costs for private publishers but on establishing an academic-controlled infrastructure for journal publication, would we be better off? I think we would.


    • Thanks concerned – I am very sympathetic to all of these issues and am looking forward to exploring them in more depth. But in the meantime:

      1. The extent to which learned societies depend on journal income is variable – for some it is as high as 65% (anthropology, IR), for others, only up to 15% (geography, history). I’m pulling together some proper data on this but there is nothing in principle that says that learned societies can’t diversify their incomes, nor even that they would collapse if they had to work with slightly smaller budgets.

      2. The likelihood of library subscriptions actually collapsing in the short to medium term. This is an assumption that Finch et al rely on, but it seems highly dubious to me. Even on these plans, there is no proposal to open the archives here, so people will still be paying as long as they want to access the archives (indefinitely, probably. Publishers and journals are unlikely in my view to stop taking willing subscriptions. There is no particular pressure from abroad to stop paying library subscriptions either, although many subscription rates are eye-wateringly high. The current policy pushes towards paying twice rather than not paying at all. I think that libraries would actually be willing to pay something for the bells and whistles of discoverability etc as this is a concrete service provided to them that makes research better. Anyway, the point is that there is definitely no urgent need to rush to any kind of gold system.

      3. The existing viability of more open access – Paul’s points about CUP policy are important here; it demonstrates that it is entirely possible to extend permissions much further than the commercial publishers do at present and still run a healthy and viable business model.

      4. More radical alternatives: The bigger picture is that self-publishing costs have really tumbled, and there are now much leaner and quite good publishing machines either within university presses, or independently. Equivalent software to Manuscript Central is now available open source, for example. I am not suggesting a rush in this direction, but since we are all labouring so much for free on the journals anyway, it wouldn’t be inconsistent to consider self-publishing.

      Overall however, whilst I think the concerns around learned society funding and search engines are important, they are just not – for me anyway – nearly as important as the freedom to publish, write and have your work considered without a financial barrier to entry. Small stuff / big stuff….


  7. Pingback: Resources on Open Access and the Finch Report | Pierre Purseigle

  8. Many great points here that needed to be made, not least because of the claims made by many voices in the debate that AHSS is the same as STEM, only five years behind (‘they just need to catch up…’). Anyway, a couple of quick thoughts re APCs:

    1. I don’t see why APCs will prevent scholars from publishing the journal of their choice (except where you have fully Gold journals, a position we are a long way from in HSS, if indeed we ever get there). What am I missing here about the Green route?
    2. Journals should be APC neutral – editors shouldn’t know up front whether or not an APC will be paid. The decision to go Green or Gold is taken by the author and their institution post acceptance, it’s not a demand (overt or otherwise) made by the journal.

    On licensing, note that the RCUK Green one is set to be CC-BY-NC and not CC-BY-NC-ND. Another area for action?

    Finally, a word on the future. I appreciate that the point of the piece is to stimulate awareness and action in the short term about the implementation of Finch (a further reason for urgency here is the Global Research Council meeting in Germany in May). But you drop some tantalising hints about some features of the current system that you feel are worth preserving, such as pre-publication peer review and journal brands. How these survive in a world of strengthened, short-embargo, VoR repositories will be the big question to address once the HEFCE and RCUK lobbying is done with.


    • Thanks David: great to have your input.

      1. As I see it, the issue is not that you will be formally barred from any particular journal, but that your choice (which should be academic in nature) will be limited in new ways. Let’s say I want to submit to The Mid-Atlantic Journal of Inverted Abstraction (to use a Halliday-ism), which charges APCs, and I get accepted. Let’s say I can’t afford the APC. I can still publish in the same journal, but now my article is embargoed in its VoR form, and therefore may not be eligible for the REF or similar open access-dependent metrics. As Lee’s comment this morning suggests, this is where competition for funds comes into it, but it also seems to reshape the landscape of possible journals.

      2. This doesn’t seem so clear to me, but maybe I’ve misunderstood something. RCUK policy refers to journals which are compliant and those that aren’t, in relation to suitable outlets for funded work. It states that journals must either offer gold/APCs or green with restrictions allowed up to 12 months on VoR. This does seem to suggest that journals can choose to do one or the other, and won’t be required to allow green if authors can’t afford gold. For example, a journal could allow authors the ‘option’ of APCs, with failure to pay them resulting in very long embargoes on VoR. They may not know in advance of an Editorial decision whether the author can pay (how sustainable is that in practice, I wonder?), but they do seem able to decide in advance whether their journal will allow green at all…

      An example to illustrate both points. Twenty major history journals released a position letter yesterday stating that they will charge APCs (at an unspecified rate), but also ‘allow’ green open access, with an embargo period of 36 months. 36 months! In other words, forcing authors into a choice between accessibility and long-run restriction. Imagine if some open access advocates are right in predicting a rapid fall in journal subscriptions. This kind of situation will quickly mean that your paper is unreadable, because colleagues won’t have subscriptions anymore, and so will be relying on access to APC’d pieces.


    • Thanks David – important stuff. Quick thoughts:
      1. It depends on what the copyright policies are for those journals. If the existing permissions allow not just any old green but a properly compliant version of green (i.e. archiving of post-peer review/VoR piece with a maximum of 6/12 months embargo), then arguably it’s not a barrier. But then, why would anyone pay any APCs to those journals unless they had personal reasons to or some cash to burn? There are incentives here to make the green option non-compliant in order to incentivise the payment of APCs.

      2. Relatedly, I just can’t see how journals could be APC neutral, since everyone might just choose not to pay them. This then *isn’t* a sustainable business model, contra Finch.


      • Thanks Meera and Paul. Peering into the murk, my thoughts/interpretations in response:
        1. Green compliance with RCUK (and presumably therefore HEFCE/REF) mandates is achievable via the post-print version, not just the VoR. This implies no disadvantage in REF terms to going down this route. All major publishers are now compliant with post-print deposits after 12 months.
        2. This leads to Meera’s excellent question: why pay the APC? Why indeed. As you discuss, there would of course be benefits of going Gold in terms of visibility, but in terms of compliance and eligibility you may as well go Green. I agree, I’m not sure how Finch et all imagine the Gold route will take off in HSS, and you can see the block grants being used disproportionately towards STEM disciplines / applied social science where the impact payoff is perceived to be greater.
        3. So the conclusion you draw is that journals will force APC payment by shutting down the Green route, as per the history example. That certainly isn’t how the major publishers and societies in the social science have reacted. Although to start with APC revenue would augment subscriptions revenue (‘double dipping’), societies and editors realise that there is no incentive to actively court APC payments: sooner or later a tipping point would be reached where the quantity of Gold papers starts to affect traditional income sources (as librarians will negotiate down their package fees), and then you face revenue collapse relative to current levels. 35 accepted articles per year x $1500 does not produce a leading journal (well, maybe it does – JCGS does it for £5k pa as we know). Equally, on the Green side, shortening embargo periods to six months or less also leads in this direction. I can’t speak to what the historians are doing – it seems extreme – but in social science we’re seeing a current position where most journals are offering RCUK-compliant Gold AND Green routes, but where the expectation is that most mandated papers will be compliant by the Green 12-month embargo route. Now, that’s not really a model for change – it’s a kind of academic Mexican standoff – but it causes me to be slightly less pessimistic about some of the consequences for academic freedom than you are. Whether this standoff is resolved gradually via a longish period of mixed Gold/Green/Subs (plus some Platinum) models, or via the short sharp shock of eg the cutting of embargo periods remains to be seen.


    • David – I’m genuinely curious about the proposed collapse in revenue streams and where this is supposed to come from. Increased negotiating power of libraries seems a deeply unlikely source for several reasons mentioned above. First, because everyone wants to access the archive, and second, because there will be such patchy payment of APCs across the board. I don’t even think that VoR or shorter embargo periods threaten this – I know this has been one of the key publisher concerns. Another publisher mentioned that the big worry was Google etc. doing a comprehensive text mining of all the journals and cutting out any publisher added value. But that basically hasn’t happened as far as I can see with the journals who already allow immediate repository archiving. Part of this is to do with patchy take up of self-archiving as well, but even with full take-up of self-archiving of VoR in institutional repositories, I don’t know how plausible it is that Google would actually be able to replicate the journal front and those services in any automated way. What are your thoughts?


      • Hi Meera,
        On Gold I think that there are two revenue-affecting scenarios. The first (more serious, but admittedly less likely) is a real threat to traditional (ie non-package) subscriptions if APC payments take off in the way that Finch/RCUK would like them to AND if other countries follow the UK lead on Gold. So far only Austria has done so. If libraries can get a majority of current content free because of APC payments, and the archives via aggregators like JSTOR or because they have purchased them from the publisher in perpetuity, then cancellations will follow.

        Scenario two is that UK librarians are going to be encouraged to set institutional APC spend against their spend on publisher packages. This is being put forward as a revenue-neutral remedy to the ‘double dipping’ problem, although my personal fear is that AHSS might be a net loser as existing package revenues are shifted over to STEM to compensate journals seeing high APC take up. This wouldn’t result in revenue collapse, but it could squeeze newer/more marginal AHSS titles with low traditional subscription bases.

        On Green, the ALPSP research that I linked to in my DoT piece suggested that embargos of six months or less would result in cancellations in AHSS. I’m sure there are opposing views on this, which I’d be keen to see. On VoRs, their use currently does not deeply threaten revenue mainly because the Green infrastructure is so fragmented. Go to or similar sites sand you can find plenty of VoR papers from journals whose publishers don’t allow their deposit (tut tut). The bigger threat re VoRs would come from a properly resourced and standardised repository network with proper search capabilities. Possibly this is something that Google might be able to lay search/mining infrastructure over the top of – I’m not really qualified to say how feasible this would actually be. But certainly even the publishers who allow VoR deposit after 12 months, such as CUP, have concerns in this direction. They only allow deposit in the repository of the institution that the researcher is affiliated to at the time they wrote the article (what happens if that institution doesn’t have a repository, or if it’s poorly managed?). Posting anywhere else requires CUP’s express permission.

        One final thing to note. RCUK have said that they will be conducted a review process after two years (so presumably around Spring 2015). This is a key date to keep in mind with regards to lobbying for AHSS.


  9. Pingback: Open access: be careful what you wish for « Feminist Philosophers

  10. Thanks both for taking the time to write such an excellent report. This is profoundly disturbing and I have raised the alarm at Queen Mary. I also attended an OA briefing for RCUK grant holders at QM yesterday, which left me even more disturbed. I thought I would relay some key points because the situation is slightly worse than you describe and you may want to update your briefer.

    1. The RCUK policy applies to all articles “submitted for publication” after 1 April 2013. Currently it does not apply to monographs; but the ambition is for this to come next.

    2. RCUK is funding the transition to “pay to say” via specific block grants to institutions. APCs will no longer be accepted in grant proposals. The cost of this starts at £17m and rises to £20m in the second year. The aspiration by the end of the fifth year is not 45% OA but 75% and this is specifically “gold” OA, so there is a clear bias in their preferences (

    3. QM staff admitted the amounts given by RCUK are quite insufficient to fund current publications. Our block grant for this year is £234,930 and next year £276,389, which equates to 142 and 169 APCs (RCUK apparently estimates the cost of APCs at £1,727+VAT). This is versus 160-170 RCUK grants at our institution.

    4. This then raises the issue of whether QM should top up, and how decisions are to be made about the allocation of scarce funds. Currently, no policy is in place; one is being developed. However, because APCs are already used to comply with OA requirements of some grant-awarding bodies, there is already a delegated system for dispersing them, which could become a model. Some Schools have ranked lists of journals where they are willing to provide APCs, excluding others. The threat that the shift to “pay to say” will lead to the rationing of research and the limiting of academics’ freedom to publish where they see fit is already very real.

    5. No institutional push-back is apparently being contemplated. The emphasis is on the need to comply with new RCUK policy in order to avoid future penalties. No resistance will be offered unless it emerges from the grassroots.


    • Thanks Lee – that is all very grim. Early indications from LSE indicate an unwillingness to rush to gold – indeed noises are being made that as far as they are concerned, ‘green is gold’. Our paper is being circulated amongst the Research Division there by the senior management – I hope it has some traction.


    • Lee, disturbing indeed. Was there any sense of sanctions for failing to follow the system? Is the suggestion that staff won’t be eligible for certain promotions, later grants etc? And what was the sense in terms of whether this would apply only named grants, or if in the future the idea was that all universities receiving research council money would have to make all their products open access (which is obviously extremely to be desired, provided that the overall funding is there, and that it doesn’t detract from research and teaching budgets).

      Clearly the differing institutional policies on this will themselves be part of the problem.


      • The “cosh” was the threat that the RCUK would make staff at non-compliant institutions ineligible to apply for grants. Apparently RCUK policy already applies not just to individually-funded projects but also any research even part-funded by an RCUK block grant, e.g. centres.


  11. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Open access to scholarly publications |

  12. Pingback: De ce un jurnal academic OA? « Doxosophia

  13. Pingback: New Players, New Priorities — Part 1: Governments and Politics Enter Scientific Publishing « The Scholarly Kitchen

  14. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Open Education News |

  15. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Philosophy, Education, Technology |

  16. Pingback: What does it cost to publish a Gold Open Access article? « Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week #AcademicSpring

  17. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Open Access News from the RSP team |

  18. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Open Access discussions |

  19. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Science ouverte |

  20. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | OLnet OER Research |

  21. Pingback: New Players, New Priorities — Part 3: It’s Never About the Money; It’s Always About the Money « The Scholarly Kitchen

  22. Pingback: Open Access: HEFCE, REF2020 and the Threat to Academic Freedom | Universities: Teaching, Research & Impact |

  23. Pingback: More Issues in Open Access(#OA) «

  24. Pingback: What does it cost to publish a Gold Open Access article? | Impact of Social Sciences

  25. Pingback: Public Library of Humanities: Envisioning a New Open Access Platform |

    • Some. We’ve heard that it’s been under discussion at a few Departments, and that there have also been concerns raised by others along similar lines. The Christmas break doubtless intervened to slow things up somewhat. At this stage attention seems to be largely Twitter/Blog-o-spheric in nature (and I will get up an update post on all that soon), but we hope that concrete interventions will be made this term, probably as publishers declare their hands and academics start to catch on to the possible consequences of it all.


      • From the academics I’ve spoken to there seems to be a range of responses but common to all is a sense of inevitability and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the proposed changes. The phrase ‘resistance is pointless’ has been uttered a few times, although some people discuss setting up autonomous open access journals as a response. Perhaps a comment is free article is a good idea, or something similar. I have contacted the Guardian about writing one but have no reply but maybe people who have friends in high places could have better luck. At least get some dialogue going? Thanks for the work you are all doing on this to raise awareness.


  26. Pingback: Facts About Open Source Scholarship « The Unemployed Philosopher's Blog

  27. Pingback: Open Access Policy, Academic Freedom and REF – ‘Pay to Say’ – University of Bath UCU

  28. Pingback: Finch Acknowledges Open Access Could Harm Learned Societies « The Scholarly Kitchen

  29. After reading this post I contacted the leader of my institution’s (University of Reading) OA committee to voice my concerns. The response certainly framed the introduction of the ‘gold’ system as an inevitability. The gist was that the university is only now developing its own OA policy, in response to the fact that RCUK has changed its policy, and since RCUK is ‘going for gold’, so the university is preparing for the implementation of gold. I was informed that it will never be the case that an article goes unpublished due to OA requirements, but am not altogether convinced.


    • Thanks Ben – and i hope others also report back about events in their institutions. Many universities have yet to declare official positions, but early paperwork from some indicate that they will have to default to green from the perspective of budget, and the Russell Group have also gone this way in their public statements. But this is the time to raise this in Departmental meetings and through the chain of institutional command so that everyone is fully aware of the potential consequences for the research community.


  30. Pingback: ATG Hot Topics of the Week |

  31. Pingback: Celebrity Culture and Young People’s Aspirations » ‘Crapping on the table’: Feminist interventions

  32. Pingback: OPEN ACCESS DEBATE | A Political Cup of Tea

  33. Pingback: An overview of open access (OA) 2013 onwards - UCU Stirling

  34. Pingback: Open Access: Auf dem Weg zur politischen Erfolgsgeschichte? – Teil III: Die politische Dimension von Open Access |

  35. Pingback: The Online Revolution: New Knowledge Geographies? » AAG

  36. Pingback: The case for Open Access | oaling

  37. Pingback: STEM and HSS: The Great (OA) Divide | SAGE Connection – Insight

  38. Pingback: STM and HSS – the Great OA Divide

  39. Pingback: “Open Access Monographs and Publishing Models: Collaborative Ways Forward” | Lilian's library life

  40. Pingback: Finch Acknowledges Open Access Could Harm Learned Societies - The Scholarly Kitchen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s