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Remove the barriers to innovation by increasing access to research


PolicyInnoHub
Mar 11, 2016 · 7 min read

The National Science and Innovation Agenda has sharpened the focus on leveraging commercial and public value from Australia’s research. Australia’s university libraries play a vital role in the research and innovation information ecosystem and are acutely aware of the opportunities and barriers to increasing the discoverability, use and diffusion of Australia’s research outputs.

Although digital disruption in the scholarly publishing industry may offer the tantalizing promise of ‘ease of access’ to the world’s research and scholarship, it has instead concentrated the majority of the world’s academic journals behind the paywalls of a handful of publishers.

There is growing international pressure to develop a sustainable approach to ensure rapid open access to the world’s research outputs, recognizing the contribution this makes to future research and to innovation.

Photo: Luckey_Sun, CC BY SA 2.0

The financial flows underpinning scholarly publishing remain complex and opaque.

As journal subscriptions continue to rise in cost, we have simultaneously seen a growth in demand for Article Processing Charges (APCs) to make publications ‘open’ as well as a growing publisher interest in publishing accompanying data. At the same time, institutions are seeking to maintain open access repositories of their researchers’ work.

Research outputs, whether data, software, methods or publications, are critical inputs to future research and underpin innovation. The National Science Innovation Agenda, whilst recognizing the value of public access to non-sensitive publicly funded research data, is silent on open access to other research outputs.


Australia’s university libraries play a vital role in the research process, providing access to the world’s research outputs, developing researcher information skills and more recently providing a range of services to increase the discoverability, use and diffusion of Australia’s research outputs.

Effective access to Australia’s research outputs provides an essential foundation for the creation of research impact. At a time when our national focus is firmly on the rapid adoption of research into practice to drive innovation, the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) community is acutely aware of both the opportunities and barriers to optimising national outcomes.

Open access to the outputs of Australia’s research will improve the effectiveness and productivity of research and its diffusion — increasing the opportunities for subsequent innovation and research impact.

The digital age has brought amazing opportunities for research practice and research collaboration, together with the growing recognition of the importance of research data and tools as valuable research outputs in their own right. If we are to optimise the value of research, its outputs (such as data, software, methods, tools and publications) must be discoverable, accessible and linked in a way that easily facilitates use, re-use and application. Discoverability and access to all research outputs not only creates the opportunity for validation of research through reproducibility but also provides the foundation for new areas of research, discovery and innovation.

Photo: NASA

Yet digital disruption in the scholarly publishing industry, whilst offering the tantalizing promise of ready access to the world’s research and scholarship, has instead concentrated the majority of the world’s academic journals behind paywalls controlled by a mere handful of publishers.

“In a lawsuit this year, Elsevier boasted that Science Direct published almost one-quarter ‘of the world’s peer reviewed, full-text scientific, technical and medical content”.

The majority of this content is inaccessible to those outside major research institutions.

Increasingly countries, and some disciplines, are seeking to ensure open access to the world’s scholarly publications (whilst preserving peer review), recognizing the contribution this makes to future research and innovation.

The models put in place have had mixed results. The Research Council UK’s report, Review of the Implementation of the RCUK Policy on Open Access, indicates that £UK16.9 million was spent from the UK Open Access fund on APCs in 2013/14 (an average of £1,600 including VAT per article). This has had no discernible impact on the cost paid for journal subscriptions, with over 150 UK higher education organisations spending a total of £430 million from 2010–2014 on the journals from ten publishing groups. This, of course, does not include payment for APCs.

Arguably the particle physics community have had more success through their SCOAP3 initiative which has converted key journals in the field to open access. This has been achieved by centrally paying publishers through collecting a voluntary contribution from more than 40 countries or, as in Australia, individual institutions, based upon their publishing output within the field. It’s important to note that these contributions are from the money refunded to institutions by publishers for discounts on subscriptions rather than an extra cost to institutions.

On the 22nd February 2016 the Netherlands, through the Association of Dutch Universities, issued an e-zine on their national approach to open access, which relies upon negotiating directly with the major publishers to institute a new publishing model. It clearly articulates the case for open access and sets a roadmap and actions to achieve 100% open access to Dutch scientific publications by 2024. Whilst presenting the Netherlands as leading the way in open access, there is clear recognition that this is an international issue requiring other countries and institutions to similarly take action.

Photo: Yuri Samoilov, CC BY 3.0

Within Australia the public research granting bodies have mandated green open access for publications, with universities being required to provide access to publicly funded research publications through institutional repositories (in accord with publisher policies and mandates).

Anecdotal evidence would indicate that compliance levels are variable (for example, with articles which are made “free to read” but not openly licensed). Whilst this provides some measure of “openness”, it rarely ensures easily discoverable, timely, open access to the publishers’ version of the peer reviewed work. Yet mandating gold open access, as evidenced by the UK experience, is not a realistic or affordable panacea.

Efforts to extend open access are gaining momentum. The European University Association (EUA) agreed at its Council meeting on 23 October 2015 to the development of a roadmap to assist European universities in the transition to Open Access (OA). At its heart is a commitment to the development of a system for collaborating, sharing and using scientific publications openly in a way which balances realistic costs and benefits shared between all stakeholders. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has issued a call to arms noting that

“Nowadays, European universities pay publishers significant parts of their university budget. Hundreds of millions of euros. Money which is not directly spent on research and education, even though it is largely taxpayers´ money. As Harvard University already denounced in 2012, many large journal publishers have rendered the situation “fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”, with some journals costing as much as $40,000 per year (and publishers drawing profits of 35% or more). If one of the wealthiest universities in the world can no longer afford it, who can? It is easy to picture the struggle of European universities with tighter budgets. In addition to subscription costs, academic research funding is also largely affected by “Article Processing Charges” (APC), which come at an additional cost of €2000/article, on average, when making individual articles Gold Open Access. Some publishers are in this way even being paid twice for the same content (“double dipping”)”.


The National Science and Innovation Agenda has sharpened the focus on leveraging commercial and public value from Australia’s research. Whilst the Agenda recognizes the value of public access to non-sensitive publicly funded research data, it is surprisingly silent on open access to research publications.

Australia has established an enviable international reputation in the field of research data management, led through the work of the Australian National Data Service (ANDS). Yet we have not established a single, clear, national statement on open access to other research outputs, specifically research publications, at a time when international pressure is mounting and moves are afoot by some publishers to incorporate research data sets into their subscription models, which would bind them with copyright restrictions and potentially place the data behind paywalls.

CAUL is seeking to enlist the support key stakeholders, to establish a national shared commitment to increasing the impact of our research outputs: publications, tools and data; by ensuring they are open, reusable, citable, reproducible and linked. This will necessitate the development of a clearly articulated national position on open access to research publications. Without such an approach we risk piecemeal decision making with investable additional costs to the national system overall. The benefits of a coordinated approach are many. It will not only ensure that Australia takes a proactive stance to increase opportunities for national innovation, it will also provide an opportunity to set in place sustainable policies and practices that increase the discoverability, use and diffusion of our research. In addition, it will strengthen Australia’s ability to positively influence the international agenda.


Special thanks for the expert input of Dr Virginia Barbour, members of the CAUL Research Advisory Committee and Dr Joanna Richardson


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda O’Brien is Pro Vice Chancellor (Information Services) at Griffith University.

Linda is a member of the University executive with responsibility for the development and implementation of Griffith’s information strategy and management of the University’s information services; including eLearning and eResearch services, the Library, University records management and University-wide information and communication technology services, systems and infrastructure.


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Independent analysis by Australia's best political scientists and policy researchers with a focus on politics, policy, and governance.