Thoughts on the IHR Finch Report Colloquium

Here are my belated thoughts on the IHR’s open access colloquium.

There was a great deal of value to this event, not least in the amount of evidence supplied in panel two by CUP and Wiley representatives about the likely impact of shorter embargo periods on Humanities and Socal Science publishing. It was also clear that there was a lot of consensus about the aspects to demand consideration of in the HEFCE consultation process: longer embargo periods (3 year min), exemptions for international publishing, monographs and edited collections and changes to the CC licensing proposals. It’s clear that certain funders (Wellcome) are zealous advocates of OA and that RCUK are backing the general drive towards Gold OA. What needs to be recognised is that only about a fifth of HSS outputs are actually supported by research council funding – the vast majority are paid for by HEIs/general QR funding. Indeed, figures supplied by a JISC study indicated that about 20% of respondents felt that they either paid for their publications themselves or were not financially supported at all in publishing (writing/research needing to be conducted outside of a normal working week or scholars who were unwaged researching/writing). ‘The author pays’ notion sadly already applies for a significant number of historians. The Gold model clearly needs to be fundamentally questioned: it is not a model that reflects either funding realities in HSS or the actual costs of publication in HSS.

I would suggest it is imperative that HSS scholars argue for the rejection of Gold OA as the only ‘sustainable’ route to open access. We need a path to OA that is flexible and recognises the differences between publishing cultures and funding streams in different disciplines. In addition, we need a path to OA that does not prejudice smaller institutions by placing undue financial burdens on them in the form of top-ups to Article Processing Charges (APCs) and institutional repository costs. We also need a path to OA that does not exclude retired, unwaged/part-time or early career staff. If OA is about inclusivity, this needs to be reflected in how it is delivered. Finally, we need a form of OA that does not cut off UK academics from their international colleagues – we should be working with other countries to develop common policies rather than making unilateral decisions that may well harm UK HE.

I would urge colleagues, especially those who have roles as members of learned societies or editors of journals, to take part in the HEFCE consultation process (deadline 25th March). We need to ensure that the form of OA required as part of REF 2020 is such that it meets the laudable goal of disseminating knowledge without harming either the diversity of UK HE and academic publishing or UK HE’s international reputation. Above all, we need some clarity! E-mail here openaccess@hefce.ac.uk

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