What to Make of the Finch Report?

[Listen to Fabiana Kubke talk about open access in her Nethui interview with bFM]

For advocates of open access, it’s been a busy few months. On May 17, the EU released plans to make  €80 billion of research from their Horizon2020 programme publicly available. On June 19, the White House petition for open access hit 25 000 signatures, mandating a response from President Barack Obama. On June 18, Dame Janet Finch released her team’s report into open access publishing in the UK, concluding that the arguments for open access to publicly funded research are “compelling… and fundamentally unanswerable.”

From the outside, it appears that the move to open access is inevitable. But, as Cameron Neylon says in his mostly positive response to Finch Report, it all depends on what you mean by ‘open.’

The Finch Report has been criticised for recommending the so-called ‘gold’ model, whereby researchers pay existing publishers to make their research publicly accessible. The report’s authors estimate that this would cost research funders between £50-60 million pounds a year. In the competing model, known as ‘green’ open access, researchers deposit a version of their work in institutional repositories.

Against the green model, the authors of the Finch Report argue that repositories cannot act as publishers. They also argue that the existing system of green OA – whereby researchers have the choice of whether or not to deposit their research in repositories – isn’t working, as only a fraction of researchers have ever participated.

British publishers Elsevier, of the Elsevier boycott fame, have welcomed the report, joining several publishers’ associations. For the report’s critics, this is hardly surprising: gold open access promises to maintain the large profit margins enjoyed by the major scholarly publishing companies, which are often well over 30%. For Elsevier, this equated to profits of £768 million in 2011.

In New Zealand, a degree of open access already exists. The NZResearch database, hosted by the National Library, links to thousands of papers and dissertations available in New Zealand’s institutional repositories. Otago Polytechnic has also given its support to free and open access to research.

But it remains the case that most publicly funded research in New Zealand is not publicly available. While the movement for open access is clearly gaining steam, it’s still not clear what kind of ‘open’ future New Zealand researchers will enjoy.

We’ll be talking about all this and much more in Thursday night’s Creative Commons Meetup. What are your thoughts? What’s the way forward for the New Zealand open access movement? Join the discussion below, send us an email or tweet your comments, and we’ll bring it up on the night.

[Update: The Guardian reports that the British government plans to implement the recommendations of the Finch report, including the Gold open access model, by 2014]


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3 Responses to What to Make of the Finch Report?

  1. Nigel Robertson 11 July 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    For academia, this conversation needs to be widened out so it’s not just about research outputs but also about learning and teaching. The value of open access sits across both strands of the academy since both research and teaching support learning opportunity. Addressing both strands can make the possibilities that open access can bring more visible.

  2. Richard White (@rkawhite) 17 July 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Great post, Matt.

    At the University of Otago we do have an open access repository ( http://otago.ourarchive.ac.nz/ ), which staff and graduate research students can use to deposit their work, with a CC licence as one of the options for access. I can’t comment authoritatively on all the other 7 universities, but certainly several of them also have their own archive. But for staff here it is true that only a few choose to publish in OUR Archive: it still tends to be a personal (or occasionally departmental) decision to do so.

    I also agree with Nigel that the issue is broader and that the academy needs to embrace openness across all its activities. It will be necessary to develop this culture over time but it will take leadership from the government (as in other countries) or from the institutions themselves. Academics tend to be positive about open access but it’s usually tempered by their lack of understanding, the time it would take to learn more about it, and that they feel constrained by the policies and frameworks of the publishing system and what gets rewarded through PBRF and promotions policies.

    Personally I also feel that the focus of the Finch report on the gold publishing model is a half-way house between the current system and a new one. New models like Peer J are the way of the future, where the academic community controls peer review and expects open access.

    • Matt 17 July 2012 at 3:35 pm #

      Cheers Richard! It’s true that the PBRF, as well as general career pressures, do seem to make academics more conservative than they would otherwise be.

      Given that the arguments for open access (and open education resources) are so clear–so ‘unanswerable’ as Finch puts it–I tend to agree that the Finch model does not represent the final state of OA publishing.

      The question for us, though, is whether it will represent the *next* state of OA publishing in NZ, if the NZ government decides to address the issue.