UKRI open access policy: one year on

Abstract process map showing lines, arrows and circles as starting points and end points

One year on from the start of UKRI’s open access policy, Professor Sir Duncan Wingham reflects on progress implementing the policy and next steps.

It’s just over a year since UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) new open access policy started for research articles – a suitable point to reflect on its implementation and our next steps.

Opening up UKRI-funded research

UKRI wants to maximise opportunities for research and innovation communities, or anyone with an interest in research, to access and make use of the findings of research that we support with public money. This is in line with the UK government’s aims in the UK Research and Development Roadmap and the research and development people culture and talent strategy.

For research articles, our new cross-UKRI immediate open access requirement builds on the success of the previous research councils policy, while our new open access requirement for monographs, book chapters and edited collections, starting in January 2024, will increase public access to the breadth of research we support.

Our open access policy and funding is designed to be flexible and permissive, supporting a diversity of open access routes and models for both articles and books.

Supporting immediate and sustainable open access

For research articles, we’ve sought to ensure that UKRI-funded authors, across different disciplines, have a choice of publishing venues offering immediate open access, and that research organisations are supported to seek affordability and value for money.

When developing the policy, it was clear that research organisations and publishers, with the support of Jisc, were already successfully reaching so-called ‘transitional agreements’. These are agreements that support open access publication in hybrid journals (those journals which offer both closed and open access).

These non-inflationary agreements have rapidly increased the number of articles being published with immediate open access, which is why we decided to restrict the use of UKRI open access funding for hybrid journals to those that are part of one of these sector-approved agreements.

Other than this restriction, our open access funds can be used flexibly by research organisations. This includes the ability to support costs associated with publishing in fully open access journals and platforms, or through self-archiving in a repository.

Ensuring a choice of publishing venues

UKRI has been supporting Jisc in implementing the policy, including its work with Universities UK and a wide range of publishers and societies (to date, Jisc have engaged with over 250), to ensure as many venues as possible can offer immediate open access to UKRI-funded authors.

96% of UKRI-funded articles, published in previous years, are in journals that now offer open access options compliant with our policy and are eligible to receive our open access funds, a 22.6% increase from when our policy started. At the journal level the equivalent figures are 91.2% and 17.2% respectively.

Importantly, similar trends are seen across the diversity of disciplines we fund.

Tools, guidance and support

We’ve also worked with Jisc and other partners to provide tools, guidance and support to help research organisations and authors follow the policy, like the Journal Checker tool and webinars allowing research organisations to share good practice.

When we published the policy, we made an important commitment to significantly increase our open access funding up to £46.7 million a year, as well as widening the number of research organisations eligible for block grant funding. Over 150 research organisations now receive a block grant through which they can support the implementation of the policy for research articles, and this includes a growing number of smaller and more specialist institutions.

Looking ahead: monographs and monitoring

Looking ahead, as highlighted in our update published today, our priorities include working closely with our communities to ensure we continue to make progress with the aims of our policy, and the successful implementation of our new open access policy for long-form outputs which starts on 1 January 2024.

Later this year, we will launch a dedicated fund to support open access costs for long-form publications, which authors will be able to apply to through their research organisations. We will ensure that this process is as simple as possible, and we are engaging with stakeholders so that their feedback can be considered as we finalise the process.

We have also published updated guidance about the long-form publications policy for authors and are hosting an information webinar for research organisations on 15 June.

Monitoring and evaluation framework

We are also developing a monitoring and evaluation framework for the whole policy. It is vital that we evaluate the success of the policy and remain vigilant for any unintended consequences, such as impacts on research collaboration or early career researchers. The framework will consider information sources and datasets that yield useful insights, and that minimise bureaucracy.

We maintain our commitment to conduct a light-touch review of the implementation of the UKRI open access policy within two years of the start date, when we expect to have more data to assess progress against its aims.

International transition

Research is an international endeavour, and our policy contributes to growing international progress opening research up. It has been encouraging to observe funders in other countries moving to immediate open access for research articles and the increasing focus on globally equitable open access.

Working in partnership

Our strong progress to date is testament to the work of those involved in the development, implementation, and management of the policy, including the authors and research organisations who are openly sharing the findings of their UKRI-funded research. As an organisation, UKRI will continue our work to ensure that the policy delivers on its core aim, which is to make the outputs of publicly funded research openly accessible to all.

Top image:  Credit: enot-poloskun, E+ via Getty Images

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