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 and industry, especially internationally; increases the pace of discovery; increases the trust of the public and their engagement with research; and supports a stronger evidence base for the development of policy.
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.
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.
Developing a strategic approach to open scholarship in Australia
- There is an urgent need for the development of a strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment to benefit researchers, research funders, and end users including industry and the community.
- Australian universities 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 latest Excellence for Research Australia (ERA) exercise universities reported that only 32% of articles submitted for evaluation are openly available for everyone to read.
- Increased access to academic research, through a range of open scholarship initiatives — including F.A.I.R. principles, open access to research papers, and the availability of the underlying data — accelerates research, improves the evidence base for policy making and improves the quality of academic research.
- There are already a number of different approaches to open scholarship in Australia, including through open access journals and books, and university repositories.
- Since 2012 the two major Australian research funders, the ARC and the NHMRC, have had open access to research policies, as do around half of Australia’s universities. However, these policies encompass only about a third of Australian Government funding for research and there is no overarching strategy to ensure a coherent approach to open scholarship. Nor is there funding to provide and maintain the infrastructure needed to support a truly open scholarship environment in Australia.
- The effect of a lack of a coordinated response to open scholarship is reflected in the data from the most recent ERA report, which indicates that compliance with the ARC and NHMRC policies is variable.
- Furthermore, there are new policies and practices emerging globally in the dissemination of research which will affect the ways in which Australian researchers and universities could disseminate their research, but there is no nationally coordinated approach to these global developments.
Increasing access to academic research increases opportunities for collaboration among researchers and industry, especially internationally; increases the pace of discovery; provides more opportunities for public engagement with research; and supports a stronger evidence base for the development of policy.
Open scholarship, which includes sharing of methods, data and code as well as publications though open access, not only increases the reach and impact of research but also underpins research integrity by favouring scrutiny and improving the reproducibility of research.
Open scholarship is also important in order to address one of the key challenges in the global research landscape: the rising cost of access to new knowledge. The cost of academic books, subscriptions to major journals, or for downloading copies of single articles, have risen steadily over more than 20 years. In Australia and in most countries the costs of research, publication and access are largely covered by public funding, but only those associated with universities have good access: the public, governments and industry have limited access to research outputs. There is a tension between the need for research institutions to disseminate their research outputs as widely as possible to increase impact and citations, and the publishers’ commercial drivers to transfer copyright ownership from authors, lock the research up in closed access databases, and then sell access back to only those who can afford it.
Over the past 10-15 years there have been many innovations in publishing policies and practices which are driving a transition globally from subscription-based publishing and closed research practices to more open access to research publications and to open scholarship more generally. Most notable examples for journal publishing (sometimes known as “gold” open access) are moves from groups of European funders and others through the Plan S and OA 2020 initiatives, and challenges to the dominance of large publishers through the cancellation of deals with these publishers.
For repository-based open access (sometimes known as “green” open access) there are other strong global collaborations, led by the Confederation of Open Access Repositories, that are seeking to redefine the role of university and subject specific repositories. Alongside these initiatives there are other innovative developments, such as the increasing use across many disciplines of “preprints” (unpublished versions of research articles) to accelerate the sharing of research – a practice that is well established in physics, for example.
International policy developments
There are many diverse approaches being undertaken internationally to open scholarship and the most successful are ones that are carefully planned, and nationally or regionally coordinated. To that end a number of countries are developing national implementation plans in order to move forward strategically at a national level. A European analysis has suggested that there are substantial cost savings to be made if there were to be national-scale transitions to open publishing, though it would be necessary to confirm the applicability of this modelling in Australia.
The situation in Australia
In 2016 the Productivity Commission recommended the need for a National Open Access policy and in 2017 the Government accepted that recommendation. However, there is still no Federal policy on open scholarship.
In 2018 the AOASG proposed a national approach to open scholarship. This proposal was accepted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training in 2018 in its inquiry into the Australian Government Funding Arrangements for non-NHMRC Research. The Committee recommended that “the Australian Government develop a more strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment.”
The effect of a lack of a coordinated response to open scholarship is reflected in data from the most recent Excellence in Research Australia report which found that only 32% of research articles submitted for that report were open access.
Despite global initiatives and national policy recommendations, in Australia the predominant model of publishing the final output of research – usually in a journal – therefore remains subscription-based. This model is dominated by overseas for-profit publishers, is expensive and does not serve the best interests of Australian universities, the economy, or the wider public. In 2017 Australian universities spent more than$280 million on journal subscriptions by (the national cost, including subscriptions paid by health, government and industry sectors, is actually much higher, but there is no national data source for this).
These costs have been mitigated through the adoption of a consortium approach to subscriptions, led by CAUL and including all 39 public Australian universities, the eight New Zealand universities, and other research organisations in both countries. Consortium subscriptions offer significant costs savings for the organisations involved, and therefore a more effective use of public funding, but the costs of subscriptions are nonetheless rising at a much higher rate than research funding.
The two major Australian government research funders, the ARC and the NHMRC, have open access policies, as do around half of Australia’s universities. Open access is specified in the CSIRO Statement of Expectations.
The Australian Government has previously invested money in open access infrastructure in terms of providing funding for development of university repositories through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy for the Australian Research Repositories Online to the World (ARROW) and Rural Universities Building Research Infrastructure Collaboratively (RUBRIC) projects, and the Australian Scheme for Higher Education Repositories (ASHER) project. However, there is no ongoing central support for these repositories and no national coordination.
There are many other organisations in Australia, including federally funded initiatives such as the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), Creative Commons Australia, universities, advocacy groups, societies and peak bodies, who have initiatives in one or more areas of open scholarship. It is also a key principle for major projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The governments, research organisations and researchers behind SKA recognised from the outset that it would produce more data than any one research group or research organisation could handle, and have adopted open data access schemes for many SKA instruments.
The various Australian initiatives often overlap and include support for open data, open journal and book publishing, open educational resources and policy development such as the F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) statement. Although there are discussions among these groups there is no one body that is responsible for coordination, nor is there any dedicated funding for a strategic approach.
The opportunity and imperative for action now
Despite much discussion and individual initiatives over the past few years, Australia lacks a coordinated approach to open scholarship, and thus risks failing to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by this increasingly important global development.
CAUL and AOASG therefore reiterate the need articulated through recent national discussions for the development of a strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment, coordinated through a centrally funded body.
The work of this body would include:
- Mapping the Australian publishing landscape (including existing open initiatives)
- Engaging with relevant international initiatives
- Reviewing and assessing open scholarship globally with the aim of recommending best practices for adoption in Australia
- Commissioning a cost-benefit analysis of changing to a more open publishing environment
- Convening a group to develop a national action plan and oversee a consultation process
In order to:
- Produce specific recommendations on a national approach to open scholarship in Australia, including policy, actions and the funding required.
The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG) advocates for open access to academic research outputs and promotes innovation in all areas of scholarly communication. The AOASG is supported by nineteen universities in Australia and eight in New Zealand. Creative Commons Australia and Tohatoha Aotearoa Commons are affiliate members.
The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) is the peak leadership organisation for university libraries in Australia. University libraries are essential knowledge and information infrastructures that enable student achievement and research excellence. CAUL makes a significant contribution to higher education strategy, policy and outcomes through a commitment to a shared purpose: To transform how people experience knowledge – how it can be discovered, used and shared.
AOASG Dr Virginia Barbour, Director firstname.lastname@example.org 07 3138 0623
CAUL Dr Robert O’Connor, Executive Director email@example.com 02 6125 2990
 SPARC Big Deal Cancellation Tracking https://sparcopen.org/our-work/big-deal-cancellation-tracking/
 Next Generation Repositories Next Generation Repositories – COAR (coar-repositories.org)
 French National Plan for Open Science https://libereurope.eu/blog/2018/07/05/frenchopenscienceplan; Swedish Plan for Open Access http://www.kb.se/dokument/open%20access/OpenAccess_National_Library_Sweden_2017_2019.pdf
 Schimmer, R.; Geschuhn, K.K.; Vogler, A. (2015): ‘Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access’ (http://dx.doi.org/10.17617/1.3)
 Government Response to Productivity Commission’s intellectual property report https://www.communications.gov.au/departmental-news/government-response-productivity-commissions-intellectual-property-report
 Data from the Council of Australian University Librarians https://www.caul.edu.au/programs-projects/statistics
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