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Paying for Open Access Publishing in the UK

Many open access publishers such as PLoS, BioMed Central and Hindawi charge a publication fee to authors to recover the costs associated with publishing their journals. And more and more traditional publishers are now offering authors the option of open access upon payment of a publication fee. Although many open access journals also offer a fee waiver for authors without access to sufficient funds, the long-term prospects for the publication fee model for open access would be greatly improved if the vast majority of researchers had access to funds to cover publication fees. To that end, the UK Research Information Network (RIN) published a helpful Briefing Note in December, outlining how universities and research institutions in the UK can work with funding agencies to provide the necessary funds to authors (as noted on Peter Suber’s blog).

A practical and sensible way to make funds for open access publication available to authors is to include them in the funds for research itself. After all, publication is an integral part of the research process, and publication fees are already considered a legitimate cost of research by many funding agencies (see the useful list of policies on the BioMed Central web site). And with publication fees tied to research funding in this way, the expenses available for publishing will scale with research activity.

The main focus of the RIN briefing note is the Research Councils UK, which represents the eight major public funding agencies in the UK, and which released a position statement on open access in 2006. The Briefing Note describes how researchers funded for example by the Medical Research Council, or the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council can include the costs of publication as a “direct cost” in any grant. But these funds can only be used in the lifetime of the grant.

Given that many research articles are likely to be published once a grant has been completed, it is also possible for an institution to set up a centralized fund to cover publication fees. The Briefing Note explains that a significant proportion (80%) of these expenses can then be recovered from the Research Councils as part of the “indirect costs” of a research grant. These indirect costs currently contribute to the funds that pay for journal subscriptions. As institutions move in this direction more authors will be able to pay open access publication fees, which could greatly assist the steady progress towards more comprehensive open access while minimizing any additional financial burden on authors or institutions.

The idea of a centralized institutional fund to pay for open access publication fees is not new. The Wellcome Trust has already taken the lead on this by making funds available to UK institutions so that Trust-funded authors can publish their work open access, and has introduced a policy requiring that all research articles arising from Wellcome Trust funded projects are freely available no later than six months after publication. These measures came fully into effect last October, and are described on the Wellcome Trust web site.

We encourage UK researchers to work with their institutions and funding agencies to develop policies along these lines, and always to include publication fees for open access as one of the expenses in their grant applications.

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