Country should embrace open access but there are warnings that universities could spend as much as £60 million extra a year on author fees

The UK should embrace full open access publishing of research results, the independent Finch report has recommended. This would allow more people free access to research publications than ever before. However, the report warns that it could cost UK higher education (HE) as much as an extra £50–60 million a year.

Open access journals turn the subscription-based model on its head: instead of relying on subscription revenues from readers, authors pay a fee before an article is published. Under this so-called ‘gold’ model, access for readers is then immediately free of charge with very few restrictions on use and re-use.

‘Making [research papers] freely accessible at the point of use, with minimal, if any, limitations on how they can be used, offers the potential to reap the full social, economic and cultural benefits that can come from research,’ according to the report. ‘Barriers to access – particularly when the research is publicly-funded – are increasingly unacceptable in an online world.’

However, the report cautions that the transition over the next few years will be challenging. ‘Implementing our recommendations will require changes in policy and practice by all stakeholders.  More broadly, what we propose implies cultural change: a fundamental shift in how research is published and disseminated.’

The report estimates that increasing access would require the HE sector to spend £38 million a year on publishing in open access journals. Establishing a system of author payment fees would encourage publishers to provide an open access option in more journals, the report argues, and most universities would establish funds for these fees.

Other costs include £10 million for extending licensing for online access in subscription-based journals and £3–5 million for repositories, plus one-off transition costs of £5 million. Repositories provide access to some version of papers either before or after publication in a journal, usually subject to an embargo period. Most UK universities have repositories, but their use has been ‘disappointing’.

Minister for universities and science, David Willetts, who last year set up the working group, chaired by Janet Finch, which delivered the report, said: ‘Opening up access to publicly-funded research findings is a key commitment for this government. This comprehensive report will make a vital contribution to the development of policy on open access, which we will be setting out in the near future.’

Robert Parker, chief executive of the RSC welcomed the report. He said that the RSC has always supported gold open access, which encourages funding to be made available to support authors during any transition from reader- to author-side payments.

President of the Institute of Physics, Peter Knight, also signalled his support for expanding access to research, but points out that it will be a significant challenge. He hopes government will signal that it will fund the costs to make the transition possible.