Joint CAUL-AOASG Election Statement: Developing a strategic approach to open scholarship in Australia

Australia needs a national strategy for open scholarship.

We are at a stalemate in improving access to scholarly research because of the tension between the needs of research institutions, which want to disseminate their research outputs as widely as possible, and commercial publishers, who dominate academic publishing, and who primarily serve the needs of their shareholders.

Australian universities alone pay more than $280 million each year for access to academic research publications, yet that access is limited to only those who work in universities. In the 2018 Excellence for Research Australia (ERA) exercise universities reported that only 32% of articles submitted for ERA evaluation are openly available.

The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG), which are led by experts in access to knowledge, have been advocating for many years for open scholarship: making the outputs of publicly-funded Australian research openly available in alignment with the F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) principles to ensure that anyone can find, read, use and reuse research outputs.

Widening access to academic research increases opportunities for collaboration among researchers[1] and industry, especially internationally; increases the pace of discovery[2]; increases the trust of the public and their engagement with research; and supports a stronger evidence base for the development of policy[3].

Over the past ten years Australia has gone from being a world leader in widening access to research outputs, mainly through the establishment of a national set of institutional repositories, to lagging behind international initiatives in open scholarship policies and practices.

Plan S, a relatively new initiative, initially from a European-led coalition but now global in scope, intends to make research from coalition partners open by 2020. Plan S offers the opportunity to catalyse a discussion on how Australia can match the rest of the world — a discussion that would involve Australian researchers, research funders, industry partners, government and academic publishers.

A re-invigorated commitment to open scholarship will help ensure that Australian researchers can continue to collaborate with international colleagues, access international funding programs, and contribute to major global projects.

To achieve these goals, Australia needs a national strategy for open scholarship.

In its 2018 inquiry into the Australian Government Funding Arrangements for non-NHMRC Research, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training recommended “that the Australian Government develop a more strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment”. CAUL and AOASG supported this recommendation[4].

It is now time to implement that approach through the establishment of a cross-sectoral body charged with developing and implementing, within three years, a national action plan for open scholarship – a plan that would include recommendations on changes to the policy and funding framework for Australian higher education. Open scholarship should also be included in the terms of reference for any post-election reviews or inquiries on Australian higher education and research.

Achieving fair and open access to Australian research outputs would be a realistic and significant accomplishment for a new or re-appointed Minister after the election, and a priority for government. CAUL and the AOASG are ready to offer their experience, expertise and knowledge to the goal of open scholarship.

More information on open scholarship, the F.A.I.R. principles, and CAUL and AOASG can be found in our joint background briefing.

[1] http://opensourcemalaria.org/

[2] https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/guidance/open-access-policy

[3] https://apo.org.au/

[4] https://www.caul.edu.au/sites/default/files/documents/media/open-scholarship2018joint-statement.pdf

caul aoasg

Funder-based open publishing platforms: what they are and why they’re happening

Thomas Ingraham

Thomas Ingraham

By Thomas Ingraham

Historically, funders had no reason to get involved with publishing: they were experts at funding research, publishers were experts at publishing research – why venture into a role that is already well-serviced by established professionals?

However, since the advent of online publishing and the open access movement, and the subsequent realization of potentially widespread irreproducibility and publication bias in the scholarly literature, the interests of funders are growing increasingly at odds with conventional scholarly publishing.

Funders (like ARC & NHMRC) are mandated to ensure maximum impact is achieved from the projects they fund. This means:

  • Making research open access for reuse by anyone; not blocked by unaffordable paywalls.
  • Ensuring new findings can be rapidly translated into new research or practical applications; not delayed by months or years due to lengthy embargo periods, or unnecessarily cumbersome peer review and production systems.
  • Guaranteeing all valid work they fund is available for reuse, including data, code and negative results; not leaving these outputs to languish on a hard drive where no one can use it due to a novelty-obsessed editorial system or a data-shy research culture.

Further, funders want publishing to be as rigorous and transparent as possible, to ensure the system’s accountability and so build academic and public trust in the published literature, after it took a knock during the reproducibility crisis.

Several funders have implemented policies encouraging open access and data sharing but feel the progress has been too slow and the wider publishing system too resistant to change. There is also the issue of the cost effectiveness of current immediate open access options. Most are expensive and funders are worried costs could escalate further, especially for prestige and hybrid journals.

Some funders felt they couldn’t simply wait for the publishing system to realign itself with these goals; they need to get actively involved in kick-starting a better way of disseminating research.

So, in late 2016, Wellcome became the first funder to decisively move into the publishing game with the launch of Wellcome Open Research. Other major philanthropic and public funders have since launched their own open publishing platforms, namely: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Health Research Board Ireland, and most recently AMRC (a consortium of 24 UK-based biomedical charities). Earlier this year, the European Commission put out a tender to create its own platform, which would make it the biggest funder by far to move into this space.

Current funder-based publishing platforms

Current funder-based publishing platforms

The platforms allow a funder’s grantees (and their collaborators) to openly share any research they think is fit to publish, along with any dependent raw data and code, within a few days of submission; referees openly review the work and if they deem it scientifically sound, the work is indexed. Articles can be updated if and when necessary.

The platform development and publishing work is contracted to an independent publisher, partially to make use of their expertise, partially to avoid potential funder conflicts of interest influencing editorial decisions. Currently, F1000Research is the sole provider of these platforms, but this may well change after the European Commission announces the results of its tender. However, the platform is owned by the funder and operates under its name; the latter is important as this endorsement helps ease their grantee’s minds, knowing anything they publish on the platform will be considered eligible for evaluations.

Funder publishing platforms are a still a very new development, and there are issues that need to be navigated carefully. These include but are not limited to preventing funder-editorial conflicts of interest; how smaller funders can get involved; who pays in joint-funder collaborations; avoiding vendor lock-in; and arranging long term governance of the platforms. These issues all look to be resolvable, and it will be exciting to see how much these platforms might disrupt the publishing ecosystem over the next few years.

Tom Ingraham is Scholarly Communications Officer at the University of Queensland. He was formerly an Associate Editor and Publisher at F1000Research, spending six years at the company from its inception in 2012 until early 2018 managing several of its publishing initiatives and community-based article collections.

Framework for F.A.I.R. Access to Australia’s research

fair-logo-all-darkThe National Science and Innovation Agenda has sharpened the focus on leveraging commercial and public value from Australia’s research. Research outputs, whether data, software, methods or publications, underpin innovation and are a critical component of future research. Yet Australia does not have an overarching statement of principle or policy with respect to access.

In July 2016, under the auspices of the Universities Australia’s Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research) Committee, a working group of representatives of university, research, business and the not-for-profit sector, with observers from government bodies, drafted a national statement of principles aimed at opening up access to Australia’s research. The draft statement was sent for consultation across the Australian higher education sector as well as to relevant government agencies, peak bodies, and industry associations involved in research in Australia. High-level feedback was also sought from relevant international bodies working in open access.

The resulting statement, available here, proposes a framework for this access that builds on principles already established for data: namely that all Australia’s research outputs should be F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).

“This statement affirms the need to make Australia’s publicly funded research outputs F.A.I.R., recognising this will require different approaches across different types of research output, a long-term national commitment, and consideration of the global change agenda.”

The working group has completed its work and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group is now undertaking coordination of the statement and responses to it.

We welcome expressions of support for this statement as we seek to make F.A.I.R. access an integral part of Australia’s national research and innovation framework.

Linda O’Brien, Chair, Australian F.A.I.R. Access Working Group

Virginia Barbour, Executive Director, AOASG