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Parliamentary committee criticizes current policy on open access in the UK

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The Finch Report and the policy on open access in the UK are under the fire of criticism. The present solutions that promote and favor Gold OA were met with numerous voices of dissatisfaction from within the scientific community. The House of Commons’ Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee, in its report, has recently added its own two cents into the discussion.

The committee took a closer look at many aspects of the current OA policy in the UK, including the choice of OA model, publishing embargo or licenses. But the most important issue raised in the report is related to the problem of the cost of open access and favoring the Gold model at the expense of the Green model.

The issue of the costs of APCs seems, in fact, to be one of the main topics of the report. The committee points out that the costs associated with the implementation of policies focused on Gold OA have been underestimated. But more important is the fact that Green OA is simply cheaper and this has not been taken into account. The report says:

 „Adopting Gold would cost UK universities 12 times the cost of adopting Green, and for the more research intensive universities, Gold could cost 25 times as much as going Green”

and

„At a time when the budgets of research organizations and HEIs are under great pressure, it is unacceptable that the Government has issued, without public consultation, an open access policy that will require considerable subsidy from research budgets in order to maintain journal subscriptions and cover APCs. Significant public investment has already been made in institutional repositories, of which there are 120 in the UK, and they could represent a more cost-effective and sustainable route to full open access.

We are concerned that the expectation appears to be that universities and research organizations will fund the balance of APCs and open access costs from their own reserves. We look to the Government and RCUK to mitigate against the impact on university budgets. The Government must not underestimate the significance of this issue.”

The report offers many conclusions and recommendations. However, I think that the whole argument can be summed up in the sentence in which the committee states that Gold OA cannot be treated as the main route to the full introduction of open access, but at best, the ultimate goal. In other words, Green OA can and should be considered as the new direction for open access, especially as the model is much cheaper. Authors of the report argue that: 

„The Government and RCUK should clarify that Gold open access is the ultimate goal of, rather than the primary route to, their open access policies. We recommend that the Government and RCUK reconsider their preference for Gold open access during the five year transition period, and give due regard to the evidence of the vital role that Green open access and repositories have to play as the UK moves towards full open access.”

Does this mean that under the influence of this report, the UK government will change its policy on open access and place its bet on Green OA? It is hard to say. Some mechanisms have already been set in motion, and the current solutions are the result of a consensus between different interest groups, including not only the world of scientists, but also publishers. We will see in near future whether the report will change anything in the current policy or not – however, without doubt the Green OA advocates have gained a powerful argument in the fight to strengthen the green component on the path to full open access in the UK.

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