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Preparing for Plan S: King’s view on open access publishing

The question of how academic work should be published is currently a hot topic in the university world. Recently, eleven large national research funders across Europe signed up to ‘Plan S’, an initiative that would require all research funded by these agencies to be published in open-access journals from the year 2020 onwards. Open-access journals do not charge a fee to readers and instead the cost is borne upfront by the researcher.

To find out more about how this may affect King’s College London, we spoke to Sally Brock, Head of Research Support at The Maughan Library.

Roar: Are KCL Libraries in support of Plan S and of open access publishing more generally?

SB: Yes, Library Services supports the aims of Plan S, which is supported by funders internationally and is a bold step forward for open access. We (and the University) are advocates of ‘open research’, which includes open access publication of research outputs, as well as making publicly available the underlying research data for re-use, as far as possible. In 2016, Library Services set up the university-wide Open Research Group to act as a forum for discussion of open scholarship. The group comprises a mixture of academics and administrative staff across King’s.

Roar: If so, is this for financial or ethical reasons (or both)?

SB: Both.

Financial reasons include:

  • A positive outcome from REF (Research Excellence Framework) is important for a research-intensive university like King’s, directly impacting on funding we receive. Preparation for REF2021 is underway and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has stipulated that any papers submitted must be made available as full text open access.
  • Much research undertaken at King’s is funded by UK research councils and a group of charities, such as the Wellcome Trust. These funders stipulate that papers must be made open access on or soon after publication and provide funds to assist with this. If King’s researchers do not comply with this requirement it could jeopardise future funding.

Ethical reasons include:

  • Library Services’ Library Evolution 2029 commits to being the voice for open research at King’s and to providing support to researchers to enable this to happen.
  • Library Evolution supports the King’s Strategic Vision to make the world a better place. King’s wants to encourage and enable the public to engage with research outputs and wants our research to be used by others. Open access helps enable this.
  • Open Access can help researchers in smaller institutions and in developing countries, professionals outside academia who rely on research (including health workers, teachers and lawyers).
  • Much of research is funded by the government, so it is only right that interested tax payers benefit from access to the latest findings.

Roar: Are there any other measures in place at KCL to support open access publishing or limit purchases of traditionally published journals?

SB: Yes, there are measures in place to support open access publishing at King’s, such as:

  • The King’s Publications Policy (due to be updated soon) requires that King’s authors make all of their research outputs open access in the Research Portal.
  • There is no cost to King’s authors to archive their research outputs in the King’s Research Portal.
  • The Scholarly Publications team within Library Services assists authors in making their papers available in the Research Portal.
  • In order to meet funder requirements, many authors have to pay article processing charges (APCs) to publishers. This is so that their work can be made immediately available as open access on publication (what is called ‘gold’ open access). The Scholarly Publications team helps authors request funding to cover the APCs.

No, we are not limiting purchases of traditionally published journals. This would have a detrimental impact on the ability of staff to carry out research. However, we are working with organisations like JISC to negotiate better deals with publishers. In our deal with Springer Nature, for example, account is taken of the money King’s has spent on APCs with them and this is offset against our subscription fees. This avoids what is called ‘double-dipping’, where a university pays a publisher to make their researchers’ papers available as open access in journals, and then pays again for the university to access those journals. We have also supported initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched, who are coming up with new models for making material available open access.

Roar: Are there any important angles to this issue that you think are not being given enough attention in the press?

SB: I think most angles have been covered. There has been a lot of coverage in the specialised media on open access, particularly during OA week in October, which was an international event. There has been a lot of scrutiny of publishers (for example in Paywall: the business of scholarship, a film about open access).

I am less sure if open access has been given as much attention as it deserves in the wider press. There are huge benefits to open access to wider society. What we need  is a sustainable model for open access, a task that is not as easy as it seems. Debate continues today within the academic publishing community, about green and gold access for example.



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