“Institutional [open access] mandates are a mixed bag. Some are powerful, many are not, and a great many of them are not even real.”
It may seem ironic to lead off this article with Anderson’s statement, given that as many as 716 universities and research institutions have adopted Open Access mandates so far — a mere decade after they were first adopted by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
However, adoption aside, implementation of these mandates in most universities is riddled with challenges and Anderson’s statement rings true, as we shall see later.
I. A brief introduction to OA mandates
Many years of relentless work by OA advocates and researchers has finally brought open access the kind of attention it deserves.
OA seeks to address the public’s limited access to scholarly research caused by high journal subscription rates.
Budapest Open Access Initiative’s definition of OA, one of the formally accepted trio of ‘BBB definitions’, states that:
“By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”
An Open Access mandate refers to a policy adopted by a funder, institution or the government which necessitates researchers to make their research articles public. This can be done via two routes: Green OA or Gold OA. The former refers to the researcher depositing her research article to an open access repository, generally institutional. The latter refers to submission of research to open access journals — some of which may levy Article Processing Charges (APCs) that can be paid by the researcher, his institution or from the research grant.
Universities that have adopted OA mandates include Harvard University (the first to do so), MIT, ETH Zurich, University of Liege and University College London. Harvard University has also developed a model policy language document for institutions looking to implement an open access policy for their faculty.
II. Why are most university mandates not “mandates”
Mandate literally means to ‘authorize’ or ‘oblige’. However, it may be too strong a word, given the way it is interpreted in many institutions where the OA policy simply ‘encourages’ submission to open access, and authors can often choose to not comply by submitting a reason.
The reason why institutions grapple with ensuring compliance is two-fold, one: the process is labor intensive and segregated at the moment, and two: there is no strong incentive for researchers to comply with institutional mandates. For example, mandates issued by funders tend to be more powerful as they can stop research funding — a pretty strong incentive for compliance.
The struggle for compliance is more common in the U.S. than in Europe. Universities in Europe have made OA mandates an administrative function and “mandatory”, whereas implementation in U.S. is still more by faculty consensus and “encouraging”.
“Mandatory” OA generally involves requiring immediate deposit of the author’s pre-print or final version of the research paper in the institute’s repository at the time of acceptance for publication and this deposit is linked to research evaluation — a condition that cannot be waived. This enforces OA submissions and eliminates non-compliance.
Additionally, the European Commission has taken a very proactive role in ensuring open access. For instance, the EC has declared that all peer-reviewed publications based on research project funded through Horizon 2020 — the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation — should be made open access.
In another measure, the EC signed an MoU with the European Universities Association (EUA) where the latter committed to encouraging universities to implement institutional OA policies.
Surprisingly, evidence suggests that researchers are in favor of policies that make it mandatory for them to self-archive publications in institutional repositories.
III. The challenges involved in implementing OA mandates
The benefits of OA mandates are numerous, for both researchers as well as institutions.
However, as many institutions will attest, adopting OA mandates comes with its own set of challenges that can deter implementation and compliance.
The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) held an Executive roundtable last year titled “Rethinking Institutional Repository Strategies”. The participating institutions revealed that implementing an OA policy requires a lot of institutional overhead.
This has been reiterated by several scholarly communications librarians. Setting up an institutional repository, making it indexable, bearing APC costs, maintaining dedicated staff for OA mandates and tracking compliance are cited as some of the reasons for this overhead.
Wellcome, the first research funder to introduce a mandatory open access policy, recently announced that it will be reviewing its open access policy to
- move to a complete OA world and
- reduce associated costs.
The compliance to their policy is over 75%, which is pretty impressive. However, this has resulted in increasing costs, which they primarily attribute to increase in APCs.
“In 2015–16 Wellcome spent £5.7 million delivering this policy, and we know from COAF data, that 71% of APCs go to funding hybrid OA; articles which are published in a subscription journal but can be made OA on the payment of a fee.
Significantly, the COAF data also reveals that the average APC for a hybrid OA article (£2,209) is 34% higher than the average APC for an article in a fully OA journal (£1,644).”
They are consequently planning to do away with publication in hybrid OA journals and mandate publication in fully OA journals.
The same economic challenge faces institutions as well. APCs are high and eat into a significant portion of academic budgets. Add to that the complexity of setting up IRs, motivating researchers to comply, allocating manpower to manually check associated metadata, track submissions and make them indexable — and we can see why OA mandates are not being as enthusiastically adopted as we’d like.
IV. Reinforcing OA mandates with SciSpace
At SciSpace, we are building a platform that supports OA intrinsically and makes it a seamless part of researchers’ research writing journey. Here’s how SciSpace can help standardize and automate your OA policy:
- Direct submission and archival: Authors add their metadata as part of the writing process on SciSpace. Scholarly Communications Librarians an enable direct submission to institutional repositories, open-access repositories (eg. DSpace), and preprint servers with relevant metadata in a single click. No additional submission effort is required from the authors.
2. Over 50% reduction in APC spend: Converting word processor submissions (eg: PDF, MS Word documents etc) to XML (the most preferred format for print and online distribution) is what makes up a significant chunk of the Article Processing Charge. On SciSpace, this conversion is done automatically, thus resulting in huge savings.
3. 100% compliance to OA mandates: Different universities are at different stages in adopting open access policies. SciSpace allows you to customize the archival process in accordance with institutional OA policy and funder mandates to ensure 100% compliance.
We are working on other features to further Open Science that will help over half a million researchers currently using our platform.
We are taking on pilots with a few handpicked universities to integrate SciSpace in their OA processes to establish the extent of cost effectiveness (estimated at over 50%) and effect on compliance.
To get more information and explore the possibilities for your university, head over to the SciSpace University Program page.
Read more about Open Access;
Tools for STM Publishers: Running an Open Access journal on a shoestring budget
Best Practices for Open Access (OA) Journal Publishing
Open Access Journal Archiving and How To Do It Effectively
How to Start an Open-Access Journal