HEFCE Open Access Policy: one year on – how is it working?

It’s been one year since the HEFCE Open Access Policy for the next REF came into force. In a nutshell the policy requires all journal articles and published conference items (with an ISSN) to be deposited in a repository within 3 months of publication (probably acceptance from April 2018) with the Author’s Accepted Manuscript.  So how is it working?

What is working?

How compliant are we? That’s normally the first question… and there are 2 answers. Firstly, of the eligible outputs added to ORO we reckon that compliance is around 84% – this includes items published Gold Open Access.  It doesn’t include outputs that may be compliant in another institutional repository or a subject repository.  However, we estimate only around 60% of OU affiliated research outputs get added to ORO so there is a significant number of outputs that still aren’t going into ORO.  And, if they aren’t reaching ORO we aren’t in a position to see if they are meeting the HEFCE policy.

Are we getting more Open Access items?  From April to March 2016-17 we received 737 Author Accepted Manuscripts that’s compared to 595 deposited in the previous year. Given that deposits of journal articles and conference proceedings are slightly down year on year (1767 in 2016-17 compared to 1873 in 2015-16) that’s some healthy growth in accession of Green Open Access content.

How can we do better? Is often the follow up question.  Firstly, getting better coverage in ORO is one answer and we need to be exploring automated ways of populating ORO to know what the institution is publishing.  Once we have the data we can then go about trying to get the full text, or identifying compliance elsewhere.  Secondly, we need to continue to get the message across about the policy, some researchers remain unclear about the requirements. We need to be creative on both counts.

What’s not working?

Well, there are a few problems for me.  To be fair, some of them are the challenges of Green Open Access, not the policy itself.

“I can’t get the AAM” – We have engaged researchers trying to do Open Access the Green route who are struggling to meet the policy.  Researchers collaborating overseas who aren’t the corresponding author have real issues obtaining the Author Accepted Manuscript from the corresponding author.  We have to remember that the corresponding author may have no knowledge of the UK context and may find the self-archiving process totally alien. Obtaining the full text at all, let alone within 3 months of publication, is a challenge.

“It’s not enough time” – The proposed move to deposit from 3 months from acceptance rather than publication poses a massive challenge for us.  We have been transparent to our researchers and asked for deposit 3 months from publication, not 3 months from acceptance.  And our compliance levels indicate that we are being successful.  However, we should remember the policy is requiring a significant change in behaviour for some researchers not used to the complexities of Green Open Access.  Moving the time frame to 3 months from acceptance would mean our compliance rates would drop.

“Is it really not eligible?” What about those items that haven’t met the policy requirements… are they seriously not eligible for the REF?  Is HEFCE expecting 100% compliance.  I doubt it, but I don’t know.  What I’m expecting are some kind compliance levels to be announced not dissimilar to the RCUK compliance levels introduced when their Open Access Policy was introduced (e.g. in Year 1 45% should be Open Access, in Year 2 53%, Year 3 60%, Year 4 67% and Year 5 75%).  But understandably HEFCE won’t announce that because it might impact on the levels currently being attained – we might take our foot off the pedal.

One danger of this is that we start second guessing the audit HEFCE might undertake. In a light touch audit the home institution may be the only people who know whether something met the 3 month deposit criteria.  So what interest does that institution have to disallow that output from its own REF return?

“It’s not Open Access is it!” –  When we do manage to get Author Accepted Manuscripts and deposit them to the repository, then we look up the embargo periods to see how long we have to lock them down for and we have embargo periods of 18 to 24 months… that’s not Open Access is it? Sometimes, it’s hard not to conclude that it’s more a Repository Deposit Policy than an Open Access Policy.

So, in conclusion, we are getting an increase in Open Access papers available at the OU, which is great, but it’s not without headaches, and a lot of hard work from everyone involved!

About Chris

Chris looks after Open Research Online (ORO) on a day to day basis. He has worked in this role since 2011 and can advise on using ORO to maximise dissemination of research outputs and Open Access publishing generally.
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