Is Open Access to Scholarly Research the Way Forward?
The debate surrounding open access has been ongoing for years, but it has reentered the limelight thanks to a recent decision made by Research Councils UK, in accordance with the British government, to provide block grants to universities so that publicly funded research can be made available to anyone and everyone.
According to the Research Councils UK, "open access" is defined as unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research papers. The government's decision to support the UK universities’ transition toward open access stems from a report, most commonly referred to as the Finch report, by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings. The report recommended that a program be developed to allow people to read and use publications free of charge. In order to do so, the report recommends that the UK shift toward "gold" open access, whereby publishers would receive their revenue from authors instead of fees accumulated from subscribers.
In November 2012, Research Councils UK announced that it would provide £100 million in
funding for open access fees charged by publishers, and that the
distribution of funds would be proportional to how much universities
have charged the UK research councils for direct labor costs in the past
Although the model sounds promising, and the idea of providing open access to everyone is inspiring, the move has been met with some criticism. For instance, Rupert Gatti in the Guardian explains that this model has significant limitations and introduces distortions. For example, shifting the burden of fees from the subscriber to the author will mean that researchers at larger and well-funded institutions will be better poised to publish through open access than their counterparts at smaller and less well-funded universities, who would thus not be able to distribute their scholarly research as easily.
In addition to the "gold" open access model, there also exists the "green" open access model, which would require authors to make their research available through repositories. However, the Finch report’s push toward the "gold" model for the UK has pushed this particular model into the mainstream as other countries begin to question whether or not they should adopt a similar solution to providing open access to readers.
In February 2012, the United States Congress introduced a proposal titled the Federal Research Public Access Act, which would require that taxpayer money fund a shift to make scientific research and papers available via open access, similar to how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) uses open access for its database. While the proposal never made it past the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it did reintroduce the arguments for and against open access to scholarly research in the United States.
While there appears to be no immediate shift to a "gold" open access model in the United States, the support of open access by the UK and other governments in Europe and around the world is testing these models of open access on a larger scale than before.