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Open Access: What we’re doing to advance community over commercialisation

24 October 2023

by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, University Dean of Research Environment and Culture

Open Access Week celebrates the importance of sharing scientific discoveries by making them freely available. It reflects a growing recognition of the importance of openness, transparency, and collaboration in research.  As Dean of Research Environment and Culture, I see these values as essential building blocks of a positive research culture.

This year’s Open Access Week theme is “community over commercialisation.” The theme reflects a commitment to the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, adopted unanimously by 193 countries in 2021. Among other things, the agreement calls for the prevention of “predatory behaviour and unfair and/or inequitable extraction of profit from publicly funded scientific activities.” This opens up for important conversations about the challenges of dealing with the unintended consequences of the commitment to Open Science.

The commitment to open access reflects widely shared values but is also informed by changes in the broader research environment. These include the fact that both the UK’s Research Excellence Framework and funders such as UKRI are building in requirements for open-access publications. From 2024, any long-form publications, including journal articles, monographs, book chapters and edited collections based on research funded by UKRI must be made publicly available within 12 months of publication.

While there are several different models for open access publishing, they are frequently based on a model of making content freely available for readers by charging authors at the point of publication through article processing charges (APCs). In many cases, however, publishers have not taken down their paywalls, but instead operate on a hybrid model, where authors can opt to pay APCs for their article to be published on an open access basis, but journals continue to charge for subscriptions and one-off access for readers. As a result of this model, we have seen dramatic shifts in the publishing landscape which have allowed commercial publishers to extract increasingly steep APCs, while continuing to charge subscription fees. At the same time, authors sign over their intellectual rights to private and profit-making companies from what is usually publicly funded research.

In this unsettled landscape, scholarly authors, institutions, and funders are footing the bills, while commercial publishers are doing better than ever. Despite a global financial crisis, the largest academic publisher, Elsevier, reported a 10% increase in its revenue to £2.9bn last year, with profit margins of 40%, in excess of those reported by Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, Nature currently charges an APC of £8,490 per journal article.

However, we are seeing a range of new initiatives and experiments to advance open access to knowledge in a way that prioritises community over commercialisation, and Cardiff University is at the forefront of these developments. We are home to Cardiff University Press, which operates on the so-called Diamond Model of Open Access publishing, where charges are made neither to authors nor to readers. We are currently in the process of piloting a new approach to allow authors to retain the rights for their publications.

Our commitment to making knowledge publicly available extends beyond standard publication forms, such as journal articles, and includes a wealth of databases, methods, and resources. To mention just a few examples, colleagues in the School of Medicine developed the Human Gene Mutation Database for practicing clinicians, patient groups and researchers, while researchers in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy have made available the Corpws Cenedlaethol Cymraeg Cyfoes: The National Corpus of Contemporary Welsh; the first large-scale, general, open-source corpus of Welsh language.

Cardiff University also plays a leading role in national and sector-wide initiatives to advancing open science. We were early members of the UK Reproducibility Network, a national peer-led consortium that advances robust research, offers training opportunities, and disseminates best practice. We are partners in the five-year Open Research Programme which aims to accelerate the uptake of high-quality open research practices. Within the programme, we are leading work to create a community of practice focused on improving institutional reward and recognition for the advancement of open research.

Our participation in these activities reflects an institutional commitment to openness and transparency in research, but also fits within a global drive to democratise knowledge to address urgent environmental, social, and economic challenges facing the world. It requires collaboration on a large scale, while reminding us as researchers that we all have a role to play in making our discoveries accessible to everyone.


(Image : “Communities” es.html CC BY-SA 3.0 )