Open access and research assessment

Yesterday, after lots of hard work from colleagues, the HEFCE consultation on open access in the next national research assessment process was published. The consultation is open until the end of October, and I looking forward to reading the inputs. We will also be taking and making opportunities to hear views during the consultation period.

The proposals that we are consulting on are, like most policy development, all about finding an appropriate balance point between sometimes competing objectives. Open access to research publications brings benefits to research and to its wider use and uptake, and there is a strong moral argument that the fruits of public investment should be available to all. We need to encourage change to achieve this goal at as fast a pace as possible. But at the same time, the pace of change mustn’t be so fast, as to reduce the quality of research or the ability to communicate about it through the appropriate channel. I think we have struck a good balance, but I am sure others will have views.

Getting this balance right was central in the thinking that as resulted in two omissions from our proposed mandate. The first is the exclusion of long-form writing: monographs and book chapters. For me this was finely based decision. There are some exciting developments going on in the world of open access book publishing, and at least one other funder believes the time is right for a mandate for long-form publications. I think we had to be cautious because of the centrality of research assessment in the scholarly process, and also the long timelines associated with the preparation of long-form works. But it is important to signal that open access for long-form works is something to aspire to in the future. This is why we announced, as part of the consultation document, a new project to explore in some detail the monographs question. This work will be closely integrated and complement the recently launched National Monographs Strategy.

The second area that we decided not to include in our proposed mandate is access to data. Like access to long-form writing, the landscape around open research data, and open research more broadly, is evolving rapidly. While a blanket mandate associated with research assessment for data seems premature to me, the direction of travel is clear. The issues with open research data are more complex than those relating to open access, and further thinking and evidence are needed before decisions can be taken on appropriate policy interventions.

This is certainly an exciting and fast-moving policy area, and the consultation launch marks the start of the next phase for us. If you have views then now is the time to lodge them through the formal consultation channels, and I would also be interested in initial reactions in the comments.