Sharing the results of publicly funded research

The new RCUK draft Open Access mandate

March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

This blog was sent to me by Ross Mounce for publication on @ccess

Research Councils UK (RCUK) – a partnership of seven core UK research funding bodies (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, and STFC), has recently released a very welcome draft policy document detailing their proposed Open Access mandate, for all research which they help fund.

The new proposed policies include (quoting from the draft):

  • Peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access.
  • Research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils should ideally be made Open Access on publication, and must be made Open Access after no longer than the Research Councils’maximum acceptable embargo period. [6 months for all except AHRC & ESRC for which 12 months is the maximum delay permitted].
  • …researchers are strongly encouraged to publish their work in compliance with the policy as soon as possible. [added emphasis, mine]


As a researcher funded by BBSRC myself – I’m thrilled to read this document.

It shows a clear understanding of the issues, including explicit statements on the need of different types of access – both manual AND automated:

The existing policy will be clarified by specifically stating that Open Access includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools. Also, that it allows unrestricted re-use of content with proper attribution – as defined by the Creative Commons CC-BY licence

But as a strong supporter of the Panton Principles for Open Data in Science, and Science Code Manifesto, I’m a little disappointed that the policy improvements with respect to data and code access are comparatively minor. Such underlying research materials need only be ‘accessible’ with few further stipulations as to how. AFAIK this allows researchers to make their data available via pigeon-transport (only) on Betamax tapes, 10 years after the data was generated *if there is no ‘best practice’ standard in one’s field.

The BBSRC’s data sharing policy for example seems to favour cost-effectiveness over transparency: “It should also be cost effective and the data shared should be of the highest quality.” and maddeningly seems to give researchers ownership over data, even though the data was obtained using BBSRC-funding: “Ownership of the data generated from the research that BBSRC funds resides with the investigators and their institutions.” This seems rather devoid of logic to me – if taxpayers paid for this data to be created, surely they should have some ownership of it? Finally ”Where best practice does not exist, release of data within three years of its generation is suggested.” 3 years huh? And that’s only a suggestion! Does anyone actually check that data is made available after those 3 years? I suspect not.

Admittedly, it would be hard to create a good one-size fits all policy, and policing it would cost more money, but I do feel that data & code sharing policies could be tightened-up in places, to enable more frictionless sharing, re-using and building-on previous research outputs.

So all in all this is a great step in the right direction towards Open Scholarship, particularly for BBB-compliant Open Access.

Related reactions and comments which are highly worth reading include posts by Casey Bergman, Peter Suber, and Richard Van Noorden.


5 responses to “The new RCUK draft Open Access mandate”

  1. Tom Olijhoek says:

    Thank you Ross for an excellent view on the ramifications of the RCUK policy on open access.
    We have had a discussion within the @ccess initiative concerning the 6/12 month embargo period. As a group we came to the conclusion that a publication can only be considered to be open access after such an embargo period. This policy is understandable from the viewpoint of publishers, however it is not at all compliant with the BOAI definition for open access. We strongly oppose the use of the term open access for embargo’ed publications. We feel that this publishing policy is detrimental to the advancement of science and also misleading because open access is per definition unrestricted access not only concerning reuse but also concerning time.

  2. 1. It is excellent that RCUK is reducing the allowable embargo period (to 6 months for most research councils).

    2. A license that formally allows more re-use rights (e.g., Libre OA, CC-BY) is desirable, but it asks for more than just free online access (Gratis OA) at a time when we are still far from having free online access. It thereby puts more constraints on authors, demands more of publishers, and those added constraints make it harder for that vast majority of institutions and funders who have not yet managed to reach consensus on adopting a Green OA self-archiving mandate of their own.

    I accordingly recommend to RCUK that “Libre OA” be strongly encouraged, but that only “Gratis OA” (which automatically includes linking, downloading, local print-off, local storage, local data-mining, search-engine harvesting and search) be required.

    This makes it easier and more probable that universities and research institutions will be able to follow suit, adopting complementary Green OA mandates of their own, for all of their research output, whether or not RCUK-funded. It will also make it easier and more probable that other research funders will adopt similar institution-friendly mandates.

    Once mandatory Gratis OA prevails, it will not be long before it is upgraded to Libre OA. But first things first. Do not let the best get in the way of the good, of which there is still so very little.

    3. The designated locus of deposit should be the fundee’s own institutional repository, not an institution-external central repository. Central repositories and search engines can then harvest the metadata from the institutional repository for search or re-display. 

    The reason for this is again that there are more publisher restrictions on institution-external deposit than on institutional deposit, and at this time when there is still so little OA and so few OA mandates, it will make it easier and more probable that universities and research institutions will be able to follow suit, adopting complementary Green OA mandates of their own, for all of their research output, whether or not RCUK-funded, if their researchers do not need to do multiple institution-external deposits or to face needless extra publisher restrictions.

    4. The optimal Green OA Mandate is ID/OA — Immediate Deposit, Optional Access — is identical to the RCUK Mandate in every respect except that it stipulates that the deposit itself must be done immediately upon acceptance for publication, rather than only after the allowable embargo period has expired. 

    This means that users will see the metadata immediately, and can already make automated eprint requests to the author for single copies for research purposes during the embargo.

    5. Repository deposit should be officially stipulated as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for research assessment as well as for submitting publication lists for RCUK research proposals.

    Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636

    Harnad, S. (2009) Open Access Scientometrics and the UK Research Assessment Exercise. Scientometrics 79 (1)

    ________ (2011) Open Access to Research: Changing Researcher Behavior Through University and Funder Mandates. JEDEM Journal of Democracy and Open Government 3 (1): 33-41.

    Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the “Fair Dealing” Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    Ross, I hope you will be submitting your comments formally to RCUK. Send email to to with “Open Access Feedback” in the subject line.

    Steven, I don’t see that RCUK have any need to extend further concessions (such as Libre rather than OA) to publishers. In the end, the funding bodies are publishers’ customers, and they are free to dictate the terms on which business is to be conducted. Publishers that won’t accept those terms must reject RCUK-funded submissions. I agree that immediate deposit/delayed access is the best model for deposition, though.

  4. […] have written about this policy before and am very supportive of it, just as I am with Open Access in academia in general. I personally […]

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