HEFCE’s new open-access policy for post-2014 outputs

March 31, 2014

This morning sees the publication of the new Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework from HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It sets out in details HEFCE’s requirement that papers must be open-access to be eligible for the next (post-2014) Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Here is the core of it, quoted direct from the Executive Summary:

The policy states that, to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 REF, authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. Deposited material should be discoverable, and free to read and download, for anyone with an internet connection [...]  The policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016, but we would strongly urge institutions to implement it now.

There are lots of ifs, buts and maybes, but overall this is excellent news, and solid confirmation that the UK really is committed to an open-access transition. Before we go into those caveats, let’s take a moment to applaud the real, significant progress that this policy represents. For the first time ever, universities’ funding levels, and so individual academics’ careers, will be directly tied to the openness of their output. Congratulations to HEFCE!

celebrate-2

Also commendable: the actual policy document is very carefully written, and includes details such as “Outputs whose text is encoded only as a scanned image do not meet the requirement that the text be searchable electronically.” It’s evident that a lot of careful thought has gone into this.

Now for those caveats:

The policy will not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data.

This is a shame, but understandable, especially in the case of books. I would have hoped that chapters within edited volumes would have been included. But the main document notes that “Where a higher education institution (HEI) can demonstrate that it has taken steps towards enabling open access for outputs outside the scope of this definition, credit will be given in the research environment component of the post-2014 REF.”

Next disappointment:

The policy allows repositories to respect embargo periods set by publications. Where a publication specifies an embargo period, authors can comply with the policy by making a ‘closed’ deposit on acceptance. Closed deposits must be discoverable to anyone with an Internet connection before the full text becomes available for read and download (which will occur after the embargo period has elapsed). Closed deposits will be admissible to the REF.

I would of course have wanted all embargo periods to be eliminated, or at the very least capped at six months as in the old, pre-watering-down, RCUK policy. But that was too much to hope for in the political environment that publishers have somehow managed to create.

More positively, it’s a good sop that deposit must be made on acceptance — not when the embargo expires, or even on publication, but on acceptance. These “closed deposits” are like a formal promise of openness, with an automated implementation. We don’t have good experimental data on this, but it seems likely that this approach will result in much better compliance rates than just telling authors “you have to come back six to 24 months after publication and make a deposit”.

Third disappointment:

There are a number of exceptions to the various requirements that will be automatically allowed by the policy. These exceptions cover circumstances where deposit was not possible, or where open access to deposited material could not be achieved within the policy requirements. These exceptions will allow institutions to achieve near-total compliance, but the post-2014 REF will also include a mechanism for considering any other exceptional cases where an output could not otherwise meet the requirements.

The exceptions encourage weasel-wordage, of course, and some of the specific exceptions listed in Appendix C are particularly weak: “Author was unable to secure the use of a repository”, “Publication is print-only (no electronic version)”, and the lamentable “Publication does not offer a compliant green or gold option”, which really means “HEFCE authors should not be using this publication”.

But when you read into the details, this approach with specific exceptions is actually rather better than the alternative that had been on the table: a percentage-based target, where some specific proportion of REF submissions would need to be open access. Instead of saying “80% of submissions must be open access” (or some other percentage), HEFCE is saying that it wants them all to be open access except where a specific excuse is given. I’d like them to be much less accommodating with what excuses they’ll accept, but the important thing here is that they have set the default to open.

Now for the most regrettable part of the policy:

While we do  not request that outputs are made available under any particular licence, we advise that outputs licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Non-Derivative (CC BY-NC-ND) licence would meet this requirement.

I won’t rehearse again all the reasons that Non-Commercial and No-Derivatives clauses are poison, I’ll just note that works published under this licence are not open access according to the original definition of that term, which allows us to “use [OA works] for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers”.

Yet even here, the general tenor of the policy is positive. While it accepts NC-ND, the policy adds that “where an HEI can demonstrate that outputs are presented in a form that allows re-use of the work, including via text-mining, credit will be given in the research environment component of the post-2014 REF”.

One last observation: HEFCE should be commended on having provided an excellent, detailed explanation of feedback they received to their consultations. As always, reading such documents can be frustrating because they necessarily contain some views very different from mine; but it’s useful to see the range of opinions laid out so explicitly.

No open-access policy document I’ve ever seen has been perfect, and this one is no exception. But overall, the HEFCE open-access policy is a significant and welcome step forward, and carries the promise of further positive moves in the future.

 

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19 Responses to “HEFCE’s new open-access policy for post-2014 outputs”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    I’ve just read the Times Higher Education take on this policy, under the headline Softening of line on Open Access-only REF. For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with that reading. It focusses on one aspect of the policy — the admittedly weasely exception 37c, “The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.” — but overlooks the much more positive other 99% of the policy.

  2. James Bisset Says:

    I think the exceptions you mention (which are very weasel-worded) are “given by respondents” and not all have made it in to the actual policy that I can see…

    For example:-

    “Publication is print-only (no electronic version)” – not in the policy that I can see.

    “and the lamentable “Publication does not offer a compliant green or gold option” – not in the policy that I can see. IN fact the inference with embargo’s etc is that authors must make a conscious effort to avoid publishing in such titles.

    However, these do appear to have been re-phrased as:-

    “The journal of publication has an embargo period longer than the maximum embargo accepted or actively disallows open access from a repository, but is the most appropriate title of publication.”

    … which leaves some wiggle room as to who will be deciding the scope and application of “most appropriate”.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    You’re right that the phrase “Publication does not offer a compliant green or gold option” came from Annex C (Summary of consultation responses). But it’s pretty much identical in meaning to exception c in paragraph 37 (Access Exceptions): “The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output”.

  4. James Bisset Says:

    Yes – hence my comment about who will be deciding what is “most appropriate”. That bit needs a bit of clarification – and as I suspect it is most likely to impact upon subjects with publications which have longer submission-acceptance-publication timescales, sooner rather than later.

  5. Ben Johnson Says:

    Mike – thank you for your excellent post. I’m amazed you managed to read and analyse it so quickly! James, to clarify para 37b/c – this will not be for the REF to judge.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    You mean that individual universities will decide this, and tailor their REF submissions accordingly? That seems open to abuse.

  7. Ben Johnson Says:

    Only 4% of REF2014-submitted journals have embargoes longer than 12/24m. So it will be a tolerable, and very minor, fraction of the submission – tolerable to us given the huge gains elsewhere. We hope researchers will be prompted to ask: ‘should I still publish here? is this the most appropriate venue?’ (And then they will still have to deposit their paper anyway.)


  8. […] following post was published yesterday by Mike Taylor on his blog. It is reproduced here in full, courtesy of the CC BY […]


  9. An aspect I found quite surprising over the past year was that we finished with many more RCUK-compliant journals than we started with – I don’t have the overall numbers to hand, but from the ones I was tracking, a few smaller publishers finally sorted out an OA policy with a sensible embargo, and Elsevier downgraded a lot of journals to be 12-month limits in the autumn. I think my final list ended with only a handful of fundamentally non-compliant titles.

    Given that HEFCE has more or less agreed with the RCUK embargo limits (12/24) I wonder if we will see this process continue, and more journals converge on the de-facto standard periods? This would probably reduce Ben’s 4% a bit, and while I agree embargos are not great, shorter is better than longer :-)

    I suspect the biggest practical headache with this policy is going to be the requirement to deposit “at acceptance” – among other things, it seems fairly easy for an individual to slip up on this (or be delayed due to fieldwork etc), for which it seems a bit unfair to penalise them if the paper is still unpublished when they deposit six months later.

    I’m also not sure how that would interact with a paper in a journal which does *press* embargos. The wording of the policy suggests they should be discoverable from the time of deposit – ie acceptance – but I’m not sure Nature would be very happy were this to happen…

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Andrew, great to hear from you. Are you really the librarian for the whole of Antarctica? What an amazingly cool job.

    I have mixed feelings on the convergence towards 12/24 embargoes. Yes, they are less iniquitous than the 24/48 embargoes that some so-called publishers would have preferred, but the use of the same limits by RCUK and HEFCE might be perceived as lending them spurious legitimacy. While accepting some embargoes now might be politically expedient, we must not lose sight of the basic fact that every embargo is damage deliberately inflicted on progress, and we absolutely need to work towards their total elimination.

    Deposit at acceptance is a Very Good Thing for lots of reasons; your point about fieldwork and other such things is why the HEFCE policy allows and extremely generous three-month “grace period”. I would have thought one month would have been ample, but there you go.

    Your point about interaction with press embargoes is an interesting one, which I’ve not seen raised elsewhere. A related issue might be that zoological nomenclature will get confused when new taxon names appear in repositories before they are formally published. To my mind, those are minor side-effects, and the world will simply find ways to cope. It’s more important to grab the open-access benefits than to preserve the way things have been done in the past for the sake of preservation.


  11. Sadly not the *whole* continent, but some small selected bits of it!

    I’ve dug out the numbers from my master list – of 175 ISI-ranked journals in the earth/environmental/life sciences we had published with/submitted to, there are five (all Elsevier) with 18-month embargos and two more which don’t allow self-deposit. All but one all of these do have a Gold OA option as well, though; the last is a small society press that apparently still hasn’t heard about OA at all. Everything else allows deposit of either the published or accepted paper with a 12-month or less embargo.

    Interestingly, thinking of taxonomy, one of the oddities is Zootaxa – it allows gold OA at $20/page, which is good value, but if you don’t pay then no self-deposit is allowed. This is the sort of thing that exception 37c is going to be vital for.

    For acceptance… I think I may just be unduly cynical about people remembering to do things in time. Perhaps this is transference from my own slack habits ;-). I agree that best practice is deposit at the point of acceptance (or even submission, with update at acceptance) but I suspect that come 2018 we’ll find HEFCE/the institutions being pragmatic about this and tolerating a lot of “deposited by time of publication” – especially since the embargos don’t start ticking until published.

  12. Matt Wedel Says:

    Mike wrote,

    Your point about interaction with press embargoes is an interesting one, which I’ve not seen raised elsewhere. A related issue might be that zoological nomenclature will get confused when new taxon names appear in repositories before they are formally published. To my mind, those are minor side-effects, and the world will simply find ways to cope.

    Yeah, the most obvious way to cope would be to switch to deposit at publication. Saves all of the headaches when dealing with press or nomenclatural issues, which are serious things that can’t just be hand-waved away. Seriously, if someone told me I *had* to deposit a manuscript dealing with a new taxon name at acceptance rather than at publication, I’d tell them to get stuffed, and go looking for an outlet without such a stupid policy. I’m all for OA and abolishing embargoes, but I don’t see why anyone *needs* a paper prior to it’s actual publication–although I agree that it is nice and can speed up science when there aren’t good reasons for keeping one’s powder dry.

    I feel like this is one of those areas where relentlessly pushing for maximum openness at the earliest possible date is not always the best play. Because if makes someone as pro-OA and generally pro-preprint as me say, “That’s stupid, and I would rather go elsewhere”, then it’s going to turn off a lot of other people who aren’t as far out on the OA limb as I am. I think that these manuscript deposit policies are only going to get traction if researchers support them, and getting people on board is already hard enough without cramming a potentially harmful (in at least some circumstances) deposit-at-acceptance clause down their throats.

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Matt, don’t confuse deposit-at-acceptance with open-at-acceptance. The HEFCE rules don’t say that that the accepted manuscript has to be made available to the world as soon as it’s accepted, but that it has to be deposited at that point. These “dark deposits” are subsequently opened up either on, or at some specified point after, publication. So I don’t see a real problem with new taxon names.

    And don’t forget, this isn’t a journal policy we’re talking about: it’s a HEFCE policy, which will translate into a university policy. People who don’t like the rules won’t have the option of “looking for an outlet without such a stupid policy”, unless by that you mean going and working for a university outside the UK, which is not going to be evaluated by the post-2014 REF. In practice, someone who felt that their work absolutely couldn’t be open access for some reason would instead seek one of the exceptions alluded to above.

    Finally, and maybe more radically … For myself, I’m increasingly of the opinion that there’s no reason not to name new taxa in preprints anyway. As with everything else in preprints, it lets you put a marker in the ground (would the NHMMNH have been able to retro-scoop Heliocanthus so easily if that name had been in a preprint in a widely visible repo?). And as for the argument that it creates nomen nudum until the formally published version comes out: so what? Really, what’s the big deal? You’ll recall that Acta Palaeontologica Polonica accidentally made the accepted manuscript of the Brontomerus paper available seven weeks before publication, but the sky didn’t fall in.


  14. Hi Mike, Matt –

    Regarding “open at acceptance” vs “deposit at acceptance”, this is a little woolly in the policy as written. There’s three ways it could theoretically work:

    * at time of acceptance, deposit paper in institutional repository, where both metadata + text are hidden completely until deliberately made visible (ie, it’s in the system but private, like an unpublished blog post).

    * at time of acceptance, deposit paper in repository, where metadata is immediately public but text is restricted (until publication or until publication + embargo date).

    * at time of acceptance, deposit paper in repository, where metadata and text are both immediately public (ie a full no-embargo preprint).

    #1 would seem to satisfy the concerns of researchers like Matt (and, I suspect, the majority of academics overall). I believe quite a few universities currently do it this way.

    However, the policy strongly seems to imply, at least in my reading, that #2 is expected – see section 21, which says that the output has to be discoverable, and is distinct from the discussion on text embargos. Given that the title usually is fairly descriptive, metadata alone in advance of publication may still be able to put the cat among the pigeons as regards publicity, advance announcement, etc.

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    I concur with your reading: HEFCE requires that for a paper to be available to REF submissions, its metadata has to have been available from acceptance, not merely from publication.

    Paradoxically this very modern policy gives, for the first time, some degree of actual justification of an archaic and stupid tradition: that of omitting the names of new taxa from the titles of the papers that name them. (When we named Xenoposeidon in 2007, the paper was entitled “An unusual new neosauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Hastings Beds Group of East Sussex, England” because I was young and stupid and followed the traditions pretty blindly; by the time we named Brontomerus in 2011, I knew better, so the paper was submitted as “Brontomerus macintoshi, a new sauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, U.S.A.”, but the journal made us remove the taxon name from the title. Very silly. One more reason why my next new taxon will go to PeerJ.)

  16. Matt Wedel Says:

    And don’t forget, this isn’t a journal policy we’re talking about: it’s a HEFCE policy, which will translate into a university policy. People who don’t like the rules won’t have the option of “looking for an outlet without such a stupid policy”, unless by that you mean going and working for a university outside the UK

    Yeah, sorry, I skipped a step there. I meant that I wouldn’t put up with this from a journal, so why would I support it from a university or from HEFCE? But that was when I thought deposit meant open.

    The HEFCE rules don’t say that that the accepted manuscript has to be made available to the world as soon as it’s accepted, but that it has to be deposited at that point. These “dark deposits” are subsequently opened up either on, or at some specified point after, publication.

    Ah, okay, then my objections pretty much evaporate. Although you can probably understand my confusion, since just a few comments prior you were talking about these things (press embargoes, new taxon names) as if they would be horked by deposit-at-acceptance policies.

    Finally, and maybe more radically … For myself, I’m increasingly of the opinion that there’s no reason not to name new taxa in preprints anyway.

    …Whereas I continue to be very strongly against this. But I admit that it is inconsistent, that we treat new genus and species names as if they were state secrets, but take no precautions at all with other clade names. But even PhyloCode will not deal with species (unless something changed while I wasn’t looking), and as long as they are the bedrock of everything else, maybe they should get special treatment. (But then, I’m not sure at all that species are special–but now we’re so far down the rabbit hole that it will take a LOT of further thought and practice to see the way forward clearly.)

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    Finally, and maybe more radically … For myself, I’m increasingly of the opinion that there’s no reason not to name new taxa in preprints anyway.

    …Whereas I continue to be very strongly against this.

    But why? What specific bad thing do you think will happen if I put the Archbishop description up as a PeerJ preprint?

  18. Andy Farke Says:

    I agree with Matt on the hazards of floating names publicly before official publication (whatever “official” means). Just within ceratopsians alone, we’ve got Nasutuceratops (the dissertation name, which was publicly known via the laudable open access dissertation policy of University of Utah) versus Nasutoceratops (the published name, after a reviewer’s suggestion on construction of scientific names). That’s not so bad, but it does create some aggravations when trying to search for things.

    Now for truly messy, look no further than Medusaceratops. It was coined in a dissertation (just a few years pre-OA, but widely circulated amongst ceratophiles), but when the actual paper was published, it had made the transformation into Albertaceratops. That was fine, until a different ceratopsian was named Medusaceratops (by the same author as Albertaceratops)! Now, all of us ceratophiles know what is what, but if these names were floating around on preprint servers, the situation would be messy indeed for the uninitiated.

    The bottom line is that preprints are not “versions of record” for taxonomic purposes (whether or not that is a good thing is another question–although for something with the permanent impact of new taxonomy, I do prefer some prepublication review, whether that’s in the open or via the traditional process). Names often are tweaked slightly or even dramatically during the review process, which could create a confusing situation if there are multiple mentions of the alternatives in the literature. This, after all, is why we have a code for nomenclature…to keep things stable and avoid a pile-up of names for the same thing.

    This of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post a preprint for the Archbishop…just post a version with the name redacted.

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Andy, good points all. So the consensus seems to be that while there’s no real problem with a name becoming known before “official” publication, the potential for it to change is a cause of real harm.

    Meanwhile, what the heck was Ryan thinking of over the name Medusaceratops?!


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