October 2014 newsletter – Open access in the post-Ref 2014 world

Daniel Zizzo* explains what is meant by ‘open access’ and how it will affect economists in UK universities.

Economists in British universities are gradually starting to come to grip with the fact that there is something called open access that is or will be required of them when they produce articles. Some may be confused; some may feel that, for different reasons, they need not worry; and some may worry rather too much. What this note provides is a little guide for each of these constituencies, by trying to answer twelve questions that they may ask. My focus will be firmly on HEFCE requirements for open access in the REF post 2014, but some of what I say will be a little more general than that.

1. ‘We already do open access, so why worry?’
A first and natural reaction to the open access agenda is that we economists have a long tradition of open access. Working papers have long been posted online and, before the age of the internet, in departmental printed copies and made freely available to anyone interested. Therefore, insofar as open access means open access to all articles without the need of a journal subscription, it is hard to deny that we economists have been at the forefront of having our knowledge as a public good shared by the wider community. Indeed, we have also been at the forefront of thinking of repositories with international reach. Repec (http://repec.org/) is without any doubt a great UK success story as it originated from funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the UK Higher Education Funding Councils. Repec is probably the most common repository of economics papers currently used in the UK. Another (U.S.) repository, the Social Science Research Network (http://www.ssrn.com), is also full of papers by economists.

Unfortunately, none of what economists do meets the requirements set by UK research councils, by the European Commission for Horizon 2020 funding, and, last but not least and for articles (or conference proceedings) accepted after April 1, 2016, by HEFCE for submission of articles to the next REF. The manuscript which needs to get open access needs (at least) to be the accepted author version (i.e., post-refereeing). And the HEFCE regulations are quite clear that open access is not just about open access (see point 5 below).

2. ‘What is the difference between green and gold open access?’ 
Green open access is where your publication can be made available for viewing in open access repositories other than the publishers’ journals. As noted, requirements are generally in terms of the accepted final manuscript. Publishers have their own set of somewhat differentiated requirements, the most important of which is the usual (though not universal) presence of an embargo period. How this embargo period matches against HEFCE guidelines is the key test to determine whether a journal can comply with post-REF 2014 requirements via the green open access requirement.

Gold open access is where an article is available for access to anyone without a journal subscription on the journal website, typically also with the right of reproduction and deposit elsewhere. Gold open access costs money: ‘article processing charges’ (APCs) are often in the order of 1,500 – 2,500 pounds for economics journals, though they can be lower. Different publishers can have different APCs and indeed, with appropriate flexing of their market power, the same publishers often have different APCs for different journals.

3. ‘Do universities get funding for gold?’
Funds were provided to a number of universities in a transitional period for use for any published research, but at present, insofar as I know, the only funds that universities receive relate to paying for the APCs of research council funded research. In Horizon 2020 grant applications, it is possible to charge APCs to the grant, but of course publications sometimes take place long after a grant expires, and, at least at present, this is not taken into account. There is therefore a potential question that universities need to face regarding potentially self-funding APCs for selected high quality non research council funded articles whose journals do not allow HEFCE guidelines compliance via the green route. And, if the answer is ‘yes in principle’, what rules to follow to identify which articles are allowed to go gold.

The one great advantage of the gold open access is that one does need to worry about embargoes (see discussion below under point 5).

4. ‘How much can we economists go green?’
Economists can go green fairly widely, though the embargo periods (and auxiliary requirements) do vary quite a lot across journals. Among the main publishers of economics journals, Elsevier has been the last to move, but it has now provided sufficient clarity that it will adapt its requirements to the needs of ‘UK authors’ for almost all of its journals, information that has been incorporated in my online tool on HEFCE compliance of Economics journals (see point 12). Exceptions exist, however. For example, as of my last check of the Elsevier website on September 23, 2014, the European Economic Review still has a 36 months embargo, which makes it non HEFCE compliant.

5. ‘Is open access just about open access?’
So far, so good, but, as it happens, open access is not just about open access. The HEFCE guidelines identify three requirements that make an article HEFCE compliant: a deposit requirement, a discovery requirement and an access requirement. The deposit requirement is that the accepted author manuscript must have been deposited in a repository within three months of acceptance. The discovery requirement is that the deposited output can be discovered by anyone online in terms of bibliographic and metadata record. The access requirement is that at least the final accepted manuscript can be accessed online by anyone. If the access requirement is met via the green open access route and there is an embargo period, this can be no longer than 24 months, and the open access must be ensured within 1 month of the end of the embargo.

This regulatory framework provides three challenges for authors if the green route is followed, even with HEFCE compliant embargo periods:

(a) You need to remember to place your output in a repository within 3 months of final acceptance, hiding the output if it has an embargo period but making the bibliographic and metadata record publically available.
(b) You need to convince your university that you are doing this.
(c) You need to ensure that, within 1 month of the end of the embargo period, the article becomes publically available.

In responses to open access consultations, the Royal Economic Society and CHUDE did make the point that institutional repositories should not be the only allowed repositories. It was pleasing to note that, whether or not as an impact of our responses, this point was taken by the final HEFCE guidelines. However, given the challenges above, it is fair to expect a strong steer from universities, and a strong incentive on yourself, for you to deposit on your institutional repository. This is because, in relation to each of the challenges:

(a) If you place the output in your institutional repository, it will take care of publishing a record while hiding the output – undoubtedly, though, other repositories may enable you to do so;
(b) Other repositories may not assure university managers that you have done your REF duty, though; it is conceivable that at least certain universities may start requiring publication in the institutional repository for outputs to be considered for the internal performance processes, e.g. promotions;
(c) The real benefit from depositing an output in an institutional repository is where this repository automatically makes the output public after the required embargo period. Relying on your memory and diary to make the paper public after the correct embargo period and within 1 month may arguably be hostage to fortune.

Universities are often worried about the initial deposit because the final acceptance of a manuscript is a private act between a journal and an author, and as such it needs perforce to rely on academics to act on it. That said, in my view (c) is or should also be a cause of concern, as it needs universities to invest in staffing to check embargo periods and input the correct data in the system so that it can be correctly attributed to each article. And, since the embargo period is typically from the date of online publication and this does not coincide with the date of final acceptance of the manuscript, it requires at least a 2nd manual intervention after the initial one, in order to input the date of online publication.

My own tool on economics journals (see link under 12 below) provides information on embargo periods of different economics journals and I try to keep it updated, but of course embargo periods may change and economists publish also in non-economics journals — for example, there are many more finance journals than those in my list. Finding the correct rules is not always easy on journal websites, and the terminology used can also be confusing. For example, as of my last check on the Wiley website again on September 20, 2014, the Wiley self-archiving webpage talks of self-archiving (a.k.a. green open access) be allowed for "the peer-reviewed (but not final) version of a contribution"; while this actually means what HEFCE calls the accepted final manuscript, the different terminology (about what is meant by 'final' or not) is clearly a source of confusion. Overall, there is a strong case for universities to take ownership of checking the correct embargo periods, as opposed to relying on authors.

6. ‘I published an ESRC funded research and the embargo provided for green open access was fine, according to my librarian. This means that the same rules apply for this journal in general for publishing for post REF 2014, does it not?’
No, not really. For example, embargo periods may well be different. You should double check.

7. ‘I am trying to hire someone from abroad and she has not even heard of open access. Is this a problem?’ and ‘I am hiring a fresh PhD from another UK university and he has not even heard of open access. Is this a problem?’
No and no. The potential unintended job market consequences from previous thinking of HEFCE were another point that was raised by the Royal Economic Society and CHUDE, and for both cases there is a suitable exception in the HEFCE guidelines.

8. Question asked sometime in 2018: ‘I have this great article but, alas, it is in a non-economics journal that does not allow for open access. What can I do to make it count for REF?’
You (will) have three options. The first one is to forget about it — for example, you may have enough other great articles to make your university happy. The second is to meet the deposit and discovery requirements and to persuade your university that your output is in a journal that ‘actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository’ and is the ‘most appropriate’ place to publish (p. 7 of the HEFCE guidelines). It is an open question how ‘most appropriate’ will be judged. In subjects such as Law where open access is more of an alien concept, or in very top journals, it may be an easier case to make. Universities may be differentially prone though to take the risk — or not.

The third option is to change university, as your new university will not be blamed for the failure at your old one. Added incentive for that last-minute-before-REF-census-date job market scramble that we all so much love.

9. Question asked sometime in 2018: ‘I have this great article but I did not meet the deposit/access requirement. What can I do to make it count for REF?’
Assuming that your article does not fit in point 8 above, you have three options. The first one is again not to pursue this, take this as a learning opportunity and do better next time. The second is to argue that you had a very good reason why you flunked; you would then need to persuade the university to make a case to take advantage of an HEFCE global escape clause that is meant to apply only ‘in very exceptional cases’, which are meant to be ‘extremely rare’ (p. 7 of HEFCE guidelines). This being the case, I would not count on it, and universities are likely to be quite reasonably reluctant to go down this route.

The third option is the same as above: update your CV, apply for jobs, and make that last-minute-before-REF-census-date job market scramble even more lively.

10. ‘The HEFCE guidelines do not put any specific copyright license requirement. If I go via the gold open access route, can I publish using any copyright license?’
There are three copyright licence terms that you are most likely to come across, CC-BY, CC-BY-NC and CC-BY-NC-ND. Informally, they can be summarized as follows: CC-BY means that the article text can be reused and reproduced in any way, also for commercial purposes, as long as there is appropriate author attribution; CC-BY-NC is the same but restricting use to non-commercial purposes; CC-BY-NC-ND means that the text can be used only in its original form (with appropriate author attribution).

While not being prescriptive, the HEFCE guidelines provide a nudge towards using CC-BY or CC-BY-NC licenses, with potential credit going to the university under the research environment component of a REF submission. That said, if your article has been funded by research councils, beware — as research councils do require a CC-BY license. One interesting example of potential confusion between two sets of guidelines.

11. ‘So for the last REF the big new thing was impact, for the next REF it is going to be open access. Anything else that may be coming out our way for the REF after next?’
None of us has got a crystal ball, but open data is as good a candidate as any: that is, most significantly, making data underpinning research available to all on a data repository. Open data is already a requirement for various funders, such as the ESRC. With the EPSRC now requiring universities to set up their own open data policy with compliance being required from May 2015, it may just be a matter of time before more structured data management practices are required. It won't be for this REF, though HEFCE considered the idea for an early open access consultation before discarding it. But we should not be surprised if it were a requirement for the REF after the next one.

12. ‘Help! Where can I find more information?’
There will be, I am sure, someone at your university — and probably more than a single someone — working their way through the delights of open access policy implementation. He, she or they will clearly be a good point of call, and there may well be relevant information provided somewhere on your university intranet. That said, the following can be sources of help online:

(a) You can find my tool on the open access of Economics journals and REF on the CHUDE Resources page (http://www.res.org.uk/view/chudeResources.html), together with responses to as many as three open access consultations if you are interested in some background;

(b) HEFCE (2014), Policy for Open Access in the Post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2014/201407/HEFCE2014_07.pdf

(c) RCUK (2013), RCUK Policy on Open Access and Supporting Guidance.

(d) European Commission (2013), Guidelines on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data in Horizon 2020.

(e) EPSRC Policy Framework on Research Data (accessed on September 21, 2014)


* Prof Daniel John Zizzo (Newcastle University) is Secretary, Conference of Heads of University Departments of Economics (CHUDE).