Imperial College 2015-2016 open access compliance report to RCUK

Earlier today Imperial College submitted its annual report on compliance with the Research Council’s open access policy to RCUK. The RCUK OA policy envisages a five year journey after which 100% of RCUK funded scholarly papers should be available as open access in 2018. To support the transition to open access, RCUK have set up a block grant that makes funds available to institutions to cover the cost for article processing charges (APCs) and other OA-related expenses. Funds are awarded in relation to RCUK research funding for institutions, and Imperial College has the second largest allocation, just behind Cambridge and followed by UCL. The annual reports to RCUK give an overview over institutional spend and on compliance.

The headline figures for the 2015/2016 College report are:

  • £1,051,130 block grant spend from April 2015 to March 2016
  • 89% overall compliance, split in 31% via the gold and 58% via the green route
  • 570 article processing charges paid at an average cost of ~£1,800
  • The top five publishers are: Elsevier, Wiley, Nature, ACS and OUP

Like every year when discussing the RCUK report figures I think it is important to highlight that compliance rates between universities cannot meaningfully be compared without understanding the data sources and methods used. Just to give one example: the College could also have reported 81% green and 8% gold from the same data.

Why do I caution against directly comparing the numbers? For starters, research-intensive universities find it difficult to establish what 100% is. With hundreds, or in the case of Imperial College many thousand papers published every year we rely on academics to manually notify us for each paper who the funder is. Even though the College has made much progress improving its processes and data over the past few years we have to acknowledge that data collected through such a process will never be complete or fully accurate. For the College report we decided, like in the previous years, to base our analysis on outputs we know to have been RCUK-funded. For this year the size of the sample was 1,923 papers (compared to 1,326 in 2014). With a different sample the numbers would have been different, and other universities may have taken a different approach to analysing the data.

Sadly, it is currently not easy to establish whether an output was made available open access. Publishers do not usually add licensing information to metadata, and searching for manuscripts deposited in external repositories is possible but not necessarily accurate. The process we used for analysis was:

  • Cross-reference the sample with the journal list from the Directory of Open Access Journals; class every article published in a full OA journal as compliant ‘gold’.
  • Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with the list of articles for which the College Library has paid an APC; class all those articles as compliant ‘gold’.
  • Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with the outputs from ResearchFish that show a CC BY license; class all those articles as compliant ‘gold’.
  • Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with list of outputs deposited in the College repository Spiral; class all those articles as compliant ‘green’.
  • Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with list of outputs that have a Europe PubMed Central ID; class all those articles as compliant ‘green’.

As in previous years we also put remaining outputs through Cottage Labs Lantern tool but this showed no additional open access outputs. The main reason for that, I suspect, is the high compliance via the green route: some 81% of outputs in the sample had been deposited to the College repository Spiral or to Europe PMC. As the College prefers green over hybrid gold it would have been in line with our policy to report them as green, but as the RCUK prefers gold OA we decided to report all outputs know as gold as such, like in previous years.

I could write more about reporting issues around open access, but as I have done that on a few other occasions I refer those who haven’t suffered enough to my previous posts.

One other caveat should be raised for those planning to analyse the APC spend in comparison with previous years: The APC article level data is based on APCs paid during the reporting period. This differs from the APC data reported in the previous period which was based on APC applications published. There are, therefore, a small number of records duplicated from the previous year. These have been identified in the notes column.

If you want the data from the full report, please visit the College repository: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/40159

I would like to thank everyone involved in putting the information together, especially colleagues in the Central Library’s open access team.

Why Open Access reporting is difficult (Imperial College London 2014/15 RCUK Open Access report)

Earlier today Imperial College London submitted its open access compliance report to RCUK. Like most UK universities, the College is in receipt of an annual open access block grant from RCUK. The funds are made available to support universities in meeting the requirements of the RCUK open access policy, in particular meeting the cost of article processing charges (APC) to make articles open access through the publisher. RCUK allocate funds in relation to research effort and Imperial College receives the second largest grant – £1,353,480 for 2014/15 (Cambridge is #1 with £1,355,073). The report, based on a template developed by Jisc, details how the money has been spent and provides headline compliance figures. It has been put together by the College Library and the Research Office, with support from ICT.

Report - CC BY licensed image by Jake Rust
Report – CC BY licensed image by Jake Rust

You can access the report via Spiral, the College repository.

The headline figure is an estimated 31% compliance via the gold and 38% compliance via the green route; we also provide details on APCs for 350 open access articles processed by the College Library. However, before you delve further into the spreadsheet or start comparing these figures to other universities I would like to draw your attention to some of the inherent issues with these reports and figures.

First of all you may notice that the numbers do not seem to add up. We report an APC spend of £597,029 and yet the 350 APCs add up to £679,721.08. The reason for this apparent mismatch is that the first figure is for the period from April 2014 to March 2015, as requested in the spreadsheet, whereas the APCs are reported to RCUK until August 2015.

Secondly, the number of APCs does not equal 31% of the outputs we report on. This is because some of the articles originating from RCUK funding have been paid for by other institutions, usually because the principal investigator was based there and not at Imperial College.

Most importantly though I would caution against directly comparing compliance figures between universities – unless you know exactly how they have been calculated. The biggest challenge, especially for large research intensive universities, is establishing what 100% is: how many outputs are related to RCUK funding? Currently there is no reliable way to derive funder information from article metadata, even where authors report the funders to the publisher. RCUK-funded authors are asked to report outputs to the research councils, but the reporting period does not overlap with the OA reporting period. That means even if all authors would reliable link all outputs to all relevant grants (this is a manual process) the information would not be sufficient to report on. Earlier this year Imperial College introduced a new workflow (for depositing outputs on acceptance) that encourages authors to link outputs and funding, but it will be a while until we can be reasonably confident that close enough to 100% of outputs are linked to all relevant grants.

Why do we not just manually go through all articles and speak to the authors? It is a question of scale – College academics publish between 10,000-12,000 articles and conference proceedings per year. We estimate that some 4,000 of these outputs may be linked to RCUK funding.

So how did we come to the compliance figures reported to RCUK? We analysed a sample of some 1,500 outputs we know to be linked to RCUK funding. Sadly, there is currently no reliable way to automatically establish the open access status of an output as publishers do not usually add licence information to output metadata and tracking outputs in repositories also creates problems. We do of course know how many outputs the College Library paid an APC for and also which outputs were deposited into the College repository Spiral. We do not know where other universities have paid an APC for an article, or where an author may have used departmental or other funds to pay an APC.
We were able to identify additional open access outputs by cross-referencing our data with the list from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Europe PubMed Central database. Even so we will have missed outputs, for example papers deposited into repositories like arXiv. We do track arXiv deposits, but there is currently no way of telling what version has been deposited. Even if we knew the version, deposits in repositories pose another problem: where an APC has been paid and the output deposited, do we report it as green or gold OA? In the case of RCUK we have decided to mark it as gold, as that is the preferred route for the UK research councils, but others may have decided differently.

I could go on much longer, but I hope the above gives you an idea of the issues that universities face when reporting on open access. Should you still want to compare university open access reports, make sure to check the data source and methods. The good news is that in the future these reports should become more meaningful, in particular when publishers and system vendors add funder, institutional and author identifiers (such as ORCID) to output metadata.

Finally, I would like to highlight two issues we raised with RCUK when submitting the report:

Many points made by the College in last year’s submission regarding policy implementation are still valid (see paragraphs 35 ff.). The College has made good progress in delivering support infrastructure (significantly reducing processing time for gold and green OA), but concerns about the wider policy landscape and publisher support for open access remain. In particular, we would like to highlight two points:

  • Hybrid open access remains significantly more expensive than full OA (~50% more per APC), even without taking into account “double dipping”. Processing APCs for hybrid journals continues to require more resource, i.e. in relation to licensing and invoicing. The Finch report saw hybrid as a means of transitioning from a subscription to a full OA model, but there is very little evidence of that transition taking place. The majority of OA funds are still spent on hybrid.

  • Differences in funder policies make it harder for academics to understand how to comply and increase the workload for support services. RCUK is encouraged to harmonise policy requirements with other funders, in particular with the Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. We note that HEFCE have made changes to align policies with regards to gold OA and we would encourage RCUK to consider a similar step for green OA.

End of 2014 Open Access news

Just in time before the College closes for the Christmas break I have found the time to write my overdue summary of recent developments in the world of open access and scholarly communication. Below are a few of the headlines and developments that caught my eye during the last couple of months.

Cost of Open Access

Commissioned by London Higher and SPARC Europe, Research Consulting have published Counting the Costs of Open Access. Using data provided by universities, including Imperial College, it concludes that there was a £9.2m cost to UK research organisations for achieving compliance with RCUK’s open access policy in 2013/14. Main conclusions are quoted below – the estimated costs for meeting REF open access requirements are particularly interesting seeing as HEFCE do not provide any funding for their in some ways even more ambitious open access policy:

  • The time devoted to OA compliance is equivalent to 110 fulltime staff members across the UK.
  • The cost of meeting the deposit requirements for a post-2014 REF is estimated at £4-5m per annum.
  • Gold OA takes 2 hours per article, at a cost of £81.
  • Green OA takes just over 45 minutes, at a cost of £33.

Pinfield, Salter and Bath published: The ‘total cost of publication’ in a hybrid open-access environment. The study analyses data from 23 UK institutions, including Imperial College, covering the period 2007 to 2014. It finds that while the mean value of APCs has been relatively stable, ‘hybrid’ subscription/OA journals were consistently more expensive than fully-OA journals. Modelling shows that APCs are now constituting 10% of the total cost of ownership for publishing (excluding administrative costs).

EBSCO’s 2015 Serials Price Projection Report assumes price increase of 5-7%, not including a recommended additional 2-4% to allow for currency fluctuations.

John Ulmschneider, Librarian at the Virginia Commonwealth University, estimates that with current price increases the cost for subscription payments would “eat up the entire budget for this entire university in 20 years”. Partly in response to that, VCU has launched its own open access publishing platform.

UK Funder News

Arthritis Research UK, Breast Cancer Campaign, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the Wellcome Trust have joined together to create the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF). COAF operates in essentially the same way as the WT fund it replaces.

An article summarising responses to the RCUK review of open access cites the Wellcome Trust saying that sanctions could accelerate the implementation of open-access.

The Wellcome Trust published a list of journals that do not provide a compliant publishing option.

International Funder News

A new Danish open access strategy sets the goal to reach Open Access to 80% of all publically funded peer-reviewed articles in 2017, concluding with 100% in 2022.

The Open Access policy of the Austrian FWF requires CC BY (if Gold OA) and deposit in a sustainable repository on publication. The FWF covers APCs up to a limit of €2500.

Research Information published a summary of international developments around open access: The Research Council of Norway is making funding available to cover up to 50% of OA publishing charges. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Natural Science Foundation of China require deposit of papers in an OA repository within 12 months of publication. The Mexican president has signed an act to provide “Mexicans with free access to scientific and academic production, which has been partially or fully financed by public funds”.

Publishers and Open Access

In November, negotiations between Elsevier and the Dutch universities broke down following an Elsevier proposal that “totally fails to address this inevitable change [to open access]”. The universities have since reached an agreement with Springer; negotiations with Elsevier have resumed.

The launch of Science Advances, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), prompted strong criticism of the AAAS approach to open access. Over a hundred scientists signed an open letter criticising AAAS for charging $1000 for the CC BY license as well as $1500 for papers longer than ten pages – on top of a $3000 base APC. This has been picked up by media including the New Statesman.

The Nature Publishing Group has had two major OA-related headlines. Generally well received was the announcement that NPG would switch the prestigious Nature Communications to full open access. On the other hand, the move to give, limited, read access to articles has been widely criticised as beggar access and a step back for open access: NPG allow those with a subscription to give others viewing (not printing) access to papers, through a proprietary software.

An open letter signed by nearly 60 open access advocates, publishers, library organisations and civil society bodies warns against model licenses governing copyright on open access articles proposed by the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). The letter says the STM licences “would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research” and would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources”. The STM licenses are seen as incompatible with Creative Commons licences.

Jisc and Wiley have negotiated a deal that provides credits for article processing charges (APCs) to universities that license Wiley journal content and have a Wiley OA account.

Open Access Sector News, June-July 2014

It is time for another round-up of news relating to open access and scholarly communication – here is a summary of interesting things that caught my eye during the past few weeks. I would like to highlight one of the miscellaneous items: analysing its publications, Chalmers University found that the open access articles deposited in the institutional repository have a 22% higher field normalized citation rate than the non-OA articles. So if you would like your citation rates to have a similar increase, why not deposit in Spiral, Imperial’s repository?


David Willetts has been replaced by Greg Clarke as minister for universities and science. Whether this will have an impact on the government’s OA policies remains to be seen, but Willetts has been an active supporter of open access.

Harvard was one of the earliest universities adopting an open access policy where academics grant the university a non-exclusive licence to distribute publications – this allows deposit in the institutional repository regardless of publishers’ OA policies. Other American universities have implemented similar policies – CalTech recently made such an announcement – and we now also see universities outside of the US following Harvard as KAUST has now adopted a similar OA policy.

Research Fortnight published a summary of FOI requests on RCUK open access compliance. “The average rate across the 27 universities that responded was 49 per cent, just above RCUK’s target. However, at least 11 universities have not hit the target—and the real number may well be higher, given that 57 universities did not respond.” Regarding publishers actually delivering OA, Research Fortnight conclude that “on average, 8 per cent of articles that should have been made open access had not been, and that 12 per cent carried no clear indication of their open-access or publishing-licence status.” As RCUK have now made the details of their review public, we are in the process of bringing together the relevant data at Imperial College; a challenge is to identify which of the roughly 10K articles annually published by our academics fall under the RCUK policy, and also the articles where the authors have paid for open access from their own budgets or gone down the green route in an external repository without alerting the College.

Wiley Exchanges published an interview with Mark Thorley, who coordinates OA and RDM for RCUK. He is overall positive about progress and defends gold OA, but he is also concerned about fluctuating embargos and some universities “acting in an ‘anti-Gold’ OA manner”. He commends UCL on launching a new OA university press. It is interesting to compare his comments with those of the Wellcome Trust’s Robert Kiley who at a recent Jisc-CNI event was very critical of hybrid journals and publishers progress in switching to OA publishing.

Subscriptions, Gold OA and cost of scholarly publishing

A study on Evaluating big deal journal bundles finds that journal pricing is not necessarily related to size or research outputs of the subscribing universities. It also concludes that academia is receiving significantly less value from commercial publishers than from non-profits: “Among the commercial publishers in our study, Elsevier’s prices per citation are nearly 3 times those charged by the nonprofits, whereas Emerald, Sage, and Taylor & Francis have prices per citation that are roughly 10 times those of the nonprofits.” The study has been picked up by media, including the Guardian.

Notes of the RCUK International Meeting on Open Access (20th March 2014) have been made public. They contain some interesting information. For example, the Wellcome Trust has imposed sanctions in respect to its OA policy 62 times in the last twelve months (none at Imperial College), and the overall compliance rate is now 66%. Cameron Neylon estimates that gold OA is now 20-25% of the global market. The paper has a useful summary of global OA activities, by country.

Stuart Lawson suggests that the Finch Report may have missed evidence when it estimated the average price of APCs. According to his article, a comprehensive study that had not been acknowledged in the report set the average APC at about 1/3 of the price eventually published by Finch. As the current APCs from hybrid journals fall into the much higher bracket given by Finch, Lawson speculates that the Finch estimate may have become a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

A lecturer in New Zealand has taken inspiration from Tim Gowers and has sent FOI requests about subscription payments to NZ universities.

UC Davis have set out a plan for a Mellon-funded project to investigate the institutional costs of gold open access, partnering with North American universities including Harvard. We are doing something similar, but on a smaller scale, as part of the OA project.

Other open access related news

A Swedish study shows that OA articles deposited in the repository of the Chalmers University of Technology have a 22% higher field normalized citation rate than the non-OA articles.

Taylor & Francis apologised for interfering with and delaying the publication of an article that criticised the profits of major academic publishers. The apology followed from the editorial board considering resignation over what could be perceived as censorship.

An analysis of data from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) shows that the US has the highest number of OA journals, followed by Brazil and the UK. The UK is the country with the second highest percentage of OA journals that charge a fee – about 64%, compared to Germany’s 30% and Egypt’s 87%. Egypt ranking highly is probably due to the OA publisher Hindawi being based in Cairo, whereas the high percentage of OA journals that charge authors a fee in the UK may be due to funders’ focus on paid-for OA.

The Research Council of Norway is making available money to cover 50% of open access publishing costs in a new, five year funding scheme.

“A Subversive Proposal”, a message sent by Stevan Harnad encouraging academics to make their publications freely available online, has just had its 20th anniversary. It is generally seen as one of the founding documents of the OA movement. Being asked what he would change if he were to write it today, Harnad responded: “Knowing now, in 2014, that researchers won’t do it of their own accord, I would have addressed the proposal instead to their institutions and funders.”