RCUK Open Access Policy – Our Preference for Gold

In this blog post I want to outline the reasons why ‘Gold’ is the preferred route for Open Access for the Research Councils.

Our overall philosophy on Open Access is underpinned by four key principles, first detailed in our 2005 position statement on Access to Research Outputs.  These principles are around Accessibility, Quality, Efficiency and Cost Effectiveness, and Long-term Preservation.

The first of our four key principles is that the ideas and knowledge derived from publicly-funded research must be made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely, rapidly and effectively as practicable.  It is this principle which is at the heart of our preference for Gold.

The scope of this principle is around ‘public use’, which covers many more potential users than just those within the research community.  Many of these users, and I am aware that there will be exceptions to this, are not familiar with how research papers are produced and distributed, and will not understand the subtle differences between pre-prints, post-prints and the publisher’s version of a paper.  Our concern is to ensure that all users have access to the highest quality version of a paper, and for us the most effective way of doing that is for a user to have access to the published version on a journal web site.  If a user wants to read a paper from Nature, the best way to ensure they are reading the definitive version is to read the version available from the Nature web site.  Gold delivers this universal access to the published version of the paper.

For us ‘use’ means much more than just being able to read research papers – it means having the ability to re-use and exploit research papers in the widest possible sense – be that text and data mining to advance new areas of research, to re-presenting collections of research papers in particular areas, to mashing together elements of research papers with other information to create new information products.  With maximal openness and accessibility, comes maximal opportunity to exploit, and thus maximal opportunity for innovation.  And from innovation comes growth, and benefit to the UK as a whole.  Gold delivers this maximal openness and opportunity for innovation through the CC-BY licence which we require where we pay an APC.

Widely’ means that access to the research outputs we fund must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for subscriptions, or for copies of articles from a journal’s web site.  Hence they should be available without cost.  Gold delivers free access for all users.

Rapidly’ means that articles should be available as soon as they are published, or with a minimum delay.  Gold delivers immediate access on publication with no embargo period.

Effectively’ means that the systems used to provide access must be straightforward for all users, and should be scalable and sustainable.  In the long-term, Gold with payment of APCs will provide a scalable and sustainable solution, to cover the costs of publishing, especially for the learned societies who are key members of the UK research community.  Gold is also straightforward for users – if you want a copy of a paper you go to a journal web site, rather than having to search a repository, and then possibly wait whilst you contact the author to request a copy.  It is also not clear to me how scalable a ‘request a copy’ or ‘Almost-OAfunction is for papers in high public demand.  An author might be happy to email copies to a few researchers, but what happens when they get 10’s or 100’s or 1000’s of requests from interested members of the public?

Basically, our preference for Gold can be summarised as we want to make the outputs of the research we fund accessible at the highest quality to the widest number of people, to do the widest range of stuff with, with the least restrictions.  We consider that, at the current time, Gold with CC-BY direct from a journal’s web site provides the route for ensuring that the papers arising from the research we fund are accessible to the widest number of users to meet this preference.

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

This entry was posted in Open Access by Mark Thorley. Bookmark the permalink.

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

22 thoughts on “RCUK Open Access Policy – Our Preference for Gold

  1. Thanks for this, Mark. I am a bit nonplussed by it, though.

    Let me say at the outset that I am perfectly happy with RCUK’s preference for Gold over Green, and that true (BOAI-compliant) open access is by far the most important issue — with the mechanism by which it’s achieved being much less important.

    With that said, the specific arguments used here in favour of Gold OA don’t make much sense to me. Specifically:

    “For us “use” means much more than just being able to read research papers — it means having the ability to re-use and exploit research papers in the widest possible sense […] Gold delivers this maximal openness and opportunity for innovation through the CC-BY licence which we require where we pay an APC.”

    This is not an argument for Gold over Green, but for true BOAI-compliant OA (which I heartily endorse). There is no intrinsic reason why Gold OA need be BOAI-compliant (for example, Elsevier’s elective OA programme is not) and no reason why Green OA need not be BOAI-compliant (for example, my own paper on arXiv is CC BY).

    What you seem to be writing about here is not properties of Gold vs. Green, but specifically of the Gold and Green arms of the RCUK OA policy. It is that policy, not something inherent in the Gold and Green strategies, that means RCUK-funded work will be CC BY when the former route is taken but may not be when the latter is taken.

    “‘Widely’ means that access to the research outputs we fund must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for subscriptions, or for copies of articles from a journal”s web site. Hence they should be available without cost. Gold delivers free access for all users.”

    Your definition of “widely” is nothing to do with Gold vs. Green at all — it’s merely a restatement of what open access is. Green, like Gold, delivers free access for all users. Any regime that doesn’t do that is not open access at all.

    “‘Rapidly’ means that articles should be available as soon as they are published, or with a minimum delay. Gold delivers immediate access on publication with no embargo period.”

    Again, you are not talking here about fundamentals of what Gold and Green are, but of the requirements that your particular policy imposes for these methods. There are Gold OA outlets that do impose an embargo (e.g. the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, whose content becomes free after one year), and Green OA repositories that do not (e.g. arXiv).

    So what seems to be happening here is that you (RCUK) have adopted a policy which, while in many ways outstanding, is weak on Green OA by allowing non-commercial clauses and embargoes; and now you’re criticising Green OA for allowing non-commerical clauses and embargoes. But really, this criticism should be directed at the Green arm of your own policy, not at Green OA per se.

    • Mike,
      You make valid points, and yes, our policy could be delivered via other routes besides Gold. However, the blog post must be seen in the context of the RCUK policy and our definition of Gold open access, which is for immediate unrestricted access with CC-BY on publication, via the journal web site. Gold OA that is not BOAI-compliant means that it is not compliant with our policy. And, yes, Green OA can be BOAI-compliant as you indicate, and can deliver immediate access, but not always.

      However, our definition of and preference for Gold is based on the realpolitik of the hear-and-now. Green can involve embargo periods, or access to pre-prints, and often the licence terms on re-use are, at best ambiguous, or at times, downright restrictive. Hence, that is why we consider that immediate access to the published version of the paper, without restriction on reuse (ie CC-BY) is currently best able to deliver our requirements for OA, and best able to deliver this to the widest possible audience, and not just the research community.


      • Thanks, Mark. That all makes sense.

        If I can offer some friendly advice, then, it’s to be more explicit in how you sell this distinction. Some OA advocates, such as Stevan Harnad, are antagonistic towards the RCUK stance because they see you claiming that Gold is inherently better than Green. But it seems that what you’re actually saying is rather different: that because of the compromises you somehow felt obliged to make in the Green arm of your policy, that specific manifestation of Green is weaker than the corresponding manifestation of Gold.

        (Why you made those compromises in the Green arm is another matter altogether, and one that I still find inexplicable. The Green arm should have required CC BY and no embargo, just like the Gold arm. Then you wouldn’t need to recommend one route over the other.)

        Finally, and on an unconnected note: in the font that these comments appear in, lower-case letters are FIVE PIXELS TALL, equivalent to 6-point Ariel. On modern screens (mine is 1200 pixels tall) this is ridiculous. Surely RCUK can fix this?

  2. Thank you for the explanation: but who is going to pay for the upfront costs of Gold open access?

    We hear that the Government has allocated £10M to get this going but, frankly, that will barely make a dent in terms of paying for Gold OA in existing journals at the UK’s current levels of productivity. In my own field, typical OA costs are £2000 per paper; at this level, £10M won’t even pay for 1 year of publications from any one of the UK’s top universities. Current funded grants are likely to have very limited resources allocated for Gold OA, so this is going to be a serious and ongoing problem for many research-intensive universities.

    • David,

      the £10M allocated by Government is to pump-prime open access activities during this financial year in the top-30 universities in receipt of the most research funding from RCUK and the funding councils. From April 2013 the Research Councils will providing block grants to universities and other eligible research institutions to support the payment of APCs. We will be making an announcement about the block grants and what they can, and cannot, be used for soon.


      • In the long term, we need to start funding Gold OA publication fees from the significant savings to be made by reducing subscription fees. That can happen in two ways: as publishers lower prices of subscriptions to take into account the money they’re making from OA fees (which I suspect is unlikely given what we know about them), or by cancelling subscriptions that are no longer needed as Gold OA becomes more ubiquitous.

        • I will say more about this after we have announced details of the funding model. But, let me be clear that the research councils have received no new funding to support payment of APCs. The money we will be providing as block grants to institutions is money that would otherwise have been spent on other activities. The funders (both RCUK and the funding councils) and research institutions have a shared interest in driving down the costs of subscriptions, in order to make up for resources being provided to cover the costs of APCs. I have made it very clear in discussions with publishers that they too have a role in ensuring the sustainability of the new system, and that we will be expecting them to look very closely at the subscriptions they charge in the UK, and adjust these to reflect the additional revenue they are receiving in APC payments in the UK. That is why we will be putting the monitoring data on APC payments made using our funding into the public domain, so that JISC Collections, RLUK and others have the basic information to be able to negotiate these necessary reductions in subscriptions with the major publishers.

  3. I respect Mark’s sincerity and honesty but the reasons he gives for RCUK’s preference for gold over green are not convincing. On quality, the text of a repository version is often identical to the version in a journal, and the stamp of quality is not given by the name of the journal but by the unpaid peer reviewers from the academic community. On speed of access, why choose a route which is more expensive for the taxpayer when the delay caused by embargoes could easily be overcome by RCUK specifying a clause in the author’s contract with the publisher allowing repository deposit with an embargo of weeks rather than months? No journal has ceased publication because of repository deposit, so why should RCUK bow to publishers’ wishes on length of embargo? And David Pyle is absolutely right about the cost of the RCUK policy, which will take money from the research budget and be less cost-effective for the taxpayer than the repository route to OA. Repositories have to date made more OA content available than journals and could continue to do so even more effectively with RCUK backing. I support OA journals but as part of a balanced policy supporting both green and gold routes to OA.

  4. I would recommend that you and readers of this blog posting take a look at: Gargouri, Yassine, Lariviere, Vincent, Gingras, Yves, Brody, Tim, Carr, Les and Harnad, Stevan (2012) “Testing the Finch Hypothesis on Green OA Mandate Effectiveness”. Open Access Week 2012, http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/344687/

    There are some pretty persuasive arguments that Green Open Access works, so long as hand-in-hand with a clear mandate. The article concludes, “RCUK (as well as all universities, research institutions and research funders worldwide) would be well advised to adopt the strongest Green OA mandates and to integrate institutional and funder mandates.”

  5. Besides the Gold vs Green OA arguments mentioned in the original post, there is an objective funder requirement for research output reporting that was somehow left unaddressed. Most institutional repositories in their current state -even if the situation is steadily improving and will get even better as REF2014 approaches- are unable to deliver the required reporting on Open Access outputs due to the lack of specific metadata describing funder information and whether a given item is actually offering an attached full-text document (plus version thereof). This is the main reason why IRs are (regrettably) not too popular among researchers. The best way to balance the struggle between Gold and Green OA along a presumably long subscription-to-Gold OA transition period would probably be to improve IR functionality so that they’re able to meet funder (and, incidentally, institutional) reporting requirements, and not just for research outputs, but also for payments. Good news is some initiatives are being funded (by the JISC) to achieve precisely that.

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  7. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for this. It certainly is helpful but it does not alleviate the concerns raised by the Finch Report and Gold OA among Arts & Humanities researchers.
    I wrote a detailed response to the report in which you might be interested: http://www.pierrepurseigle.info/a-response-to-the-finch-report-on-open-access/

    I have a specific question though. How do you propose we deal with publishers who reject the CC-BY licence and commercial reuse even under their Open Access programme?

    Best wishes,

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  9. I disagree that ease of use for the public is an argument in favour of Gold over Green. In my view the main criterion is a simple one: if you Google the title of a paper, will you then find a version that is sufficiently definitive to be useful? In mathematics, most authors post a final version (not formatted by the publisher, but in other respects not significantly different from the published version) on the arXiv, and this shows up easily in a Google search. That is much more convenient than going to a journal website.

    It may be that some people are not aware of the difference between preprints and published articles, but under what circumstances does this actually matter?

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