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Paying for open access publishing – a role for institutions

Nottingham University has recently established a fund of £20,000 to help researchers pay open access publishing fees. Although £20,000 doesn’t sound like a lot relative to the estimated value of the entire scientific, technical and medical journals market (thought to be around $5billion), the creation of the fund at Nottingham is significant. This was announced at the recent Association of Research Managers and Administrators conference as described by Natasha Robshaw.

The money in Nottingham University’s fund comes from the indirect expenses associated with grants that have been awarded to researchers at Nottingham. The allocation of these indirect expenses (or overhead) is determined by the university research administration, and they are intended to cover the costs of the infrastructure required to support research (equipment, facilities, libraries and so on). In its position statement on open access last year, the umbrella organization of the Research Councils in the UK indicated that publication fees for open access journals would be a legitimate use of indirect research expenses.

Of course, many funding agencies have indicated that open access fees can be included within the research grant itself, but publications might often arise after the grant has terminated, and this is where an institutional fund might prove particularly helpful (as well as for researchers who have insufficient funds). This practical approach to covering publication fees was suggested previously in a briefing note from the Research Information Network as also discussed here.

Why is all this so significant? Institutions are one of the major stakeholders in publishing, but the creation of the dedicated fund by Nottingham is a new approach to help fund open access publication fees. It should inspire many other institutions to take similar action, and potentially, it’s a scalable way to fund open access publishing. Indirect costs, like research grants scale with research activity, and therefore with publishing output. The funds to cover open access publication fees will therefore grow naturally with the funds for research itself.

It’s fair to say that Nottingham’s action was probably inspired by the policies of the Wellcome Trust in the UK – the Trust has provided money to all major UK institutions to cover open access publishing fees for Trust-funded researchers. Each institution has to administer its fund, and it seems like a logical step to extend that fund using other financial sources to help all researchers publish in open access journals.

The move by Nottingham reflects the ongoing support of the institution for open access. For example, Nottingham is the home of the SHERPA partnership, which runs the ROMEO project, summarizing publisher open access and copyright policies, and the more recent JULIET project which covers funding agency policy.

Bravo, Nottingham!

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