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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Since yesterday’s post on The UKRI Open Access Review Consultation Document my inbox has been swamped by journalists, librarians, and publishers asking what the policy means for REF. The short answer is that, at the moment, it means nothing.

What the review says

  • Work funded just by REF (i.e. that acknowledges only unhypothecated QR awarded from the last REF) is not in scope for the OA policy. [Footnote 12]
  • There will be a separate review of open access for REF, starting no later than six months after the publication of the final UKRI policy. “Informed by the outcomes of the UKRI review, a detailed REF-specific OA consultation will be launched no later than six months after the UKRI policy is announced, taking into account the work within higher education institutions (HEIs) associated with preparing submissions for REF 2021. It will build on the evidence gathered in this UKRI consultation and address REF-specific issues, including compliance, tolerance of non-compliance and specific exceptions. It will inform the UK HE funding bodies’ decisions about the OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021.” [Paragraph 31]

What does this mean?

  • The REF 2021 policy remains in place.
  • Future REF policies for the REF-after-REF 2021 will be informed by the results of the UKRI consultation.
  • It is possible that the same conditions will be imposed for monographs as in the UKRI policy, for submissions. This is because REF is a retrospective assessment that awards prospective unhypothecated funding. But we will not know until that consultation has gone through.
  • Assuming there were no REF mandate for OA books and just the UKRI policy applied, presuming that funding stays at current levels, the volume of OA titles would be ‘Just under 650 titles directly linked to an AHRC or ESRC-funded project [that were submitted to the REF2014 Panels C and D]. The titles account for around 5 per cent of all long-form submissions returned to Panels C and D. These titles are predominantly published by presses based in the UK (78 per cent), with 14 per cent published with a US press.’ UUK Open Access Monographs Working Group Report (Key Observations Point 4)
  • Assuming on the other hand that the REF review follows the UKRI review, we would see a much higher proportion of monographs that would need to be OA. We would see works currently under contract exempted, so there’s no worry there. There would also be generous exemptions for trade books, creative writing, catalogues, material with extensive third-party reuse etc. Research England (or HEFCE as it was) has already signalled that there will be such a mandate for the REF-after-REF 2021.

Hybrid and green

On the matter of delivery, because there is still such a market for print in the book space, the term ‘hybrid’ does not really apply in this space in the same way as it does, say, in the journal world. It is good if publishers can continue to sell print and use that to offset the costs of OA.

It is notable also that the UKRI review solves the books dilemma quite bluntly. The dilemma was: authors protested that Book Processing Charges weren’t going to work/be affordable for gold. At the same time they protested that a green model for books would expose an inferior version. (There were lots of other protests: for instance, green makes metric collection to demonstrate the use of OA books much harder by distributing usage etc.) The UKRI review solution is: allow green and gold. It can be the author’s accepted manuscript. Or it can be the version of record. This is essentially: take your pick of route, but don’t try to argue that we should pursue no route because both routes have challenges. (Misty Mountains vs. the Mines of Moria.)

REF currently has a green policy for journal articles with an embargo. I would expect zero-embargo for articles to be demanded in the next consultation, as per the Plan S principles to which Research England has signed up under its UKRI umbrella (albeit that the REF is co-owned by devolved funding councils who are not signatories). REF also allows gold to satisfy its conditions.

This means that, with respect to monographs, not much would have to change to be harmonised with the UKRI policy. There would be green and gold. There would be exemptions. Works already under contract would be out of scope. So I am banking on there being something in this with respect to the REF policy.