Proposals to embrace open access and throw open the doors of academe have been met with great enthusiasm. 'Progressive' scholars (and everyone frustrated by paywalls and limited journal holdings) has jumped for joy. But has too little thought has been given to some of the implications?
Given the past record of this (and previous) governments on Higher Education and Research kowtowing to big business, surely we should be a little more cautious, and not just think 'oooh, how nice, this time I agree with their policy'. There's a catch in it. Those of us in academic jobs in UK universities don't stand to lose much, but I don't think this is a win-win situation. There are likely to be losers as well - if we all just jump onto Gold Access without questioning its business model as closely as we question the Elsevier approach.
In the recent Guardian piece, Universities and Science Minister David Willets, endorses the so-called ‘gold open access’ model, preferred by the large publishing conglomerates. ‘Gold’ OA changes the business model from one where readers pay for access to the output of research, to one where scholars pay to publish work – anywhere from a few hundred pounds to £2000. The ‘green open access model’ preferred by most of those who work in and advocate for open access, instead requires researchers to make their work available inrepositories – such as those most Universities are already establishing fordealing with the REF.
Some large granting agencies, like the Wellcome Trust, already set aside funds for OA up front fees, being willing to pay to ensure that research they fund is as widely accessible as possible. Other researchers may be able to include such amounts in research grants, or request support through their universities. But for self-funded Phd students, independent scholars, and contract staff the implications are less clear – how will they find the money to publish in these ‘gold’ journals? Will their fees be waived? If so, on what terms? And who will decide? Will journals have annual quotas or budgets?
But it is most telling that the Finch report and responses to it look only at the implications of OA for
UK academia. We assume that the rest of the world will be
grateful to have access to all of our publications (and
wish they’d reciprocate). But what
about scholars from developing countries who want to publish in OA
journals? Some area studies journals
have already begun planning for this, with plans to waive fees, but will
disciplinary journals follow suit?
Or do we risk establishing a two-tier publishing system? Not the one we have at present where OA journals are too often seen as inferior new-comers, but one where some scholars can only afford to publish in ‘old-model’ journals, while the rest pay to publish in the ‘Gold’ band.
university libraries struggle to pay journal subscriptions the
widespread belief that scholars in developing countries can’t access journals
published here is unsurprising. In reality, many publishers
make their resources available free or heavily discounted although the
range of options can be tricky to navigate – and it all depends on reliable
electricity and internet access. But under the ‘Gold’ OA scheme, we could have
the ultimate irony of African scholars able to read our research, but unable to publish their own alongside it.
Open access is coming; the internet and our expectations of instant access to documents makes it inevitable, but in moving towards a global flow of research, we need to consider the losers, as well as the winners, and seek to avoid creating new divisions and hierarchies within academia.