HEFCE Open Access Mandate Not Narrower: Better Focused

“The UK funding councils have narrowed the scope of their proposed open access mandate for the post-2014 research excellence framework.”
— (Paul Jump, “Open access mandate narrowed in formal proposalsTimes Higher Education)
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1. Model. The HEFCE proposal to mandate immediate (not retrospective) deposit of journal articles in the author’s institutional repository in order to make them eligible for evaluation in the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) is wise and timely, and. if adopted, will serve as a model for the rest of the world. It will also complement the Green (self-archiving) component of the RCUK Open Access (OA) mandate, providing it with an all-important mechanism for monitoring and ensuring compliance.

2. Monographs. Exempting monographs for now was a good decision. The HEFCE mandate, like the RCUK mandate, applies only to peer-reviewed journal articles. These are all author giveaways, written solely for research impact, not royalty income. This is not true of all monographs. (But a simple compromise is possible: recommend — but don’t require — monograph deposit too, but with access set as Closed Access rather than Open Access, with no limit on the length of the OA embargo. Author choice.)

3. Data. Ditto for open data: It’s good judgment not to force it on researchers. Researchers must be allowed a fair period of first-expoitation rights on the data they have gathered. If it’s immediately open to all, why bother to gather data data at all? Just analyze the data of others immediately after they take the time and trouble to gather it. (But here too, a simple compromise would be to recommend — but not require — Closed Access deposit. Eventually, fair embargo length limits can be decided, on a discipline by discipline and project by project basis.)

4. Exceptions. The required compliance rate has not been reduced from 100% to 60-75% (and should not be). HEFCE is merely asking in the consultation, whether the research community prefers a reduced target percentage or case-by-case consideration of exceptions. The latter is a far better way of making the policy realistic and successful. Most of the notional reasons for non-compliance (e.g., publisher embargoes) are based on misunderstandings anyway. (Articles can be deposited immediately, even if there is a publisher OA embargo: access to the immediate-deposit can be set as Closed Access instead of OA during the embargo.) Percentage-targets would simply ensure that compliance rates were no higher than the allowable percentages.

5. Embargoes. The HEFCE mandate moots OA embargoes because it requires immediate deposit, whether or not access is immediately OA. This is the core reason the HEFCE mandate is so very important and provides an optimal mandate model for the rest of the world: Publisher OA embargoes no longer determine whether and when an article is deposited. And the institutional repositories have an eprint request Button with which individual users wordlwide can request a single copy of a Closed Access article for research purposes with one click; and the author can choose to comply or not comply with one click. This tides over research needs during any allowable OA embargo with “Almost-OA.”

6. Licenses. Once the allowable embargo (if any) elapses, any OA deposit can be accessed, read, searched, linked, downloaded, stored, printed off and locally data-mined by any user webwide. It will also be harvested and indexed for Boolean full text search by engines like Google. No further license is needed for any of this. Further re-use rights will come once effective Green OA mandates on the combined HEFCE/RCUK model are adopted globally by funders and institutions worldwide. Universal Green OA will also hasten the inevitable natural demise of all remaining OA embargoes.

7. Start-Date. The HEFCE consultation also inquires about when the mandate should start, and contemplates a grace period of two years, from 2014-2016. But there is really no reason why an immediate-deposit mandate should not start immediately after REF 2014 for authors at UK institutions, for any article accepted after that date: Everyone begins preparing for the new REF the day after the old REF anyway.

8. Date-Stamp: Only one of the consultation questions is critical for the success of the HEFCE mandate model, and that is whether the requirement that the deposit be “immediate” refers to the date of publication or the date of acceptance for publication. It is crucially important that the date should be acceptance, not publication. Acceptance date is marked by a determinate date-stamped acceptance letter and is a natural point for deposit in the author’s workflow. Authors usually don’t even know when their accepted article will appear, or has appeared; the lag may be months or even years from acceptance. Nor is the date on the journal issue a marker, because issues often appear long after their calendar dates. Publication lags can be even longer than OA embargoes! Meanwhile, precious access and impact are being lost. The HEFCE immediate-deposit mandate will only succeed if it is pegged to the determinate acceptance date rather than the indeterminate publication date.