RCUK Open Access Policy – When to go Green and When to go Gold

Yesterday I took part in the Imperial College Science Communication Forum event ‘discussing’ the new RCUK Policy on Access to Research Outputs with Stephen Curry (Imperial College) and Richard Van Noorden (Nature News) – though after two hours under the spotlight, for me it felt a little more like a ‘grilling’ than a discussion 😉  However, many thanks to the SciCommForum team for the invitation to present our policy in more detail and to have the opportunity to discuss issues around the interpretation and implementation of the policy.  One of the things I committed to do was to update the guidance to the policy to be very clear about the choices RCUK funded authors can make in terms of which routes they must use to make their research papers open access.  I want to use this blog post to reiterate the policy clarifications I gave at the SciCommForum event, and previously at the Open Access Publishers Association Meeting.

Our policy requires that peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access.

A journal is compliant with our policy if it provides Gold OA using the CC-BY licence, and RCUK will provide funds to institutions to cover payment of APCs.  However, if a journal is not prepared to offer a Gold CC-BY option, it can achieve compliance by offering a specific Green option which must meet the following requirements.  It must allow, at a minimum, the accepted manuscript with all changes resulting from peer-review, to be deposited in a repository without restrictions on non-commercial re-use and with a maximum embargo period of 6 months.  For a limited transition period the maximum embargo period is extended to 12 months for papers arising from research funded by the AHRC and the ESRC.  This is in recognition that journals in these areas are not yet as well placed to move to an OA model.

So what does this mean for authors?  If the journal they want to publish in only offers policy compliance through a Gold route, they must use that journal’s Gold option.  If the journal only offers compliance through the Green route, the author must ensure that a copy of the post-print is deposited in an appropriate repository – for example, UKPMC for papers arising from MRC funded research.  If the journal offers both a Gold and a Green route to compliance (and some journals already do this), it is up to the author and their institution to decide on the most appropriate route to use.  And, if a journal offers neither a Green nor a Gold compliant route, it is not eligible to take RCUK funded work, and the author must use a different, compliant, journal.

The Research Councils are not anti-Green and support a dual approach for delivering OA.  However, we do have a strong preference for Gold, and I will explain why in my next blog post.  And, where there is a choice between compliant-Green and compliant-Gold – either through a journal offering both routes to compliance, or through using different journals offering different compliance routes – it is up to authors and their institutions to work together to make the choice as to which option to use.

Questions about our Open Access policy?  Please email openaccess@rcuk.ac.uk.

An audio recording of the Imperial College discussion is available on FigShare.

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About Mark Thorley

Mark Thorley. NERC, Head of Science Information; NERC, Data Management Coordinator; Chair RCUK Research Outputs Network; Member CODATA Executive Committee. Natural Environment Research Council Swindon SN2 1EU

14 thoughts on “RCUK Open Access Policy – When to go Green and When to go Gold

  1. Thanks, Mark, this is a very clear and helpful.

    On the precise wording of the policy. My understanding from your colleague at the Imperial is that it’s not going to change in the short term; but although what’s written about the Green arm of the policy is not perfect, it’s sufficiently watertight. You’ll remember someone in the audience made the point that the policy specifies what the journal must allow by way of deposition but doesn’t actually say that the author needs to make the deposition. But it does go on to say “Research Councils will accept a delay of no more than six months between on-line
    publication and a research paper becoming Open Access”.

    Finally, on terminology: I very much like this wording that talks about a paper being published (as non-OA) and then becoming OA after the no-longer-than-six-month embargo. I think is is much more precise and helpful than to talk about a paper being open access, or “delayed open access” during the embargo period.

    [You know that I have another issue with the Green arm of the policy, but I will save that for another article.]

    • Mike, I am afraid that in order to comply with civil service guidelines our blog needs to have the comments moderated. This is not to censor people but is to ensure unsuitable content is not published into a channel associated with RCUK and to ensure comments made on blogs are clear and appropriate to the content/subject matter in question.


    • Thanks for the feedback – we will look into this and see if we can adjust the font size. It may not be possible with the wordpress platform we use but we will check.

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  3. Notwhithstanding what Mark says in his post above about the choice of Green vs Gold, the atual RCUK guidance on this matter is phrased as follows:
    “Therefore, where a publisher does not offer a ‘pay-to-publish’ option the Research Councils will accept a delay between on-line publication and a paper becoming Open Access of no more than six months….”
    In other words it says you can only choose Green where Gold is not on offer.

    I have tried many times to extract clarification from RCUK on this, but promised replies never materialise.

    Robin Ball.


    http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/Guidance_for__the_RCUK_policy_on_Access_to_Research_Output.pdf Section 3.2, first paragraph, as downloaded 8 Feb 2013.

    • Robin,

      RCUK will be issuing updated guidance on our policy before the end of February. This will provide further clarification on green vs gold flexibility, and how the RCUK APC funding can be used.


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