Open Access, or: The internet is not going away #openaccess

I’ve been thinking about the Open Research agenda again recently; it would be fair to describe me as an advocate and I’ve written about this topic before on this blog here and here. This post though is more about the research culture that is often at odds with openess and why I think that needs to change.

I read an article on the Guardian Higher Education Network recently by Professor Stephen Curry entitled “It’s time for academics to take back control of research journals“. He writes about how the “Publish or Perish” culture of academic research has led academia to quite a difficult place in its relationship with the business of scholarly publishing. His article is a useful reminder of the history of scholarly communications and their purpose in disseminating and growing our collective knowledge.

I think there is an uncomfortable truth in that many researchers do not really understand the economics of journals and book publishers and their relationship with the academy. Back in January, Professor Martin Eve came along to a session organised by the UWE Library Research team to talk about open access and how the economics behind it operate in a talk he entitled “Open Access, or: The Internet is not going away“.

Martin is a professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is also the co-founder of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) and his talk was a really good explanation of how academic publishing could and should work – even in the humanities and social sciences. I think it important to highlight that the model of open research is not the exclusive domain of science, it affects us across the disciplines although there are some particular challenges in humanities.

He started out by outlining the contradictory nature of scholarly publishing as it is now, on the one hand we publish to be read but on the other we publish to expose our work to assessment.

He framed this as researchers operating in a symbolic economy whereby they hand over their academic findings to publishers to package up and disseminate.  This content is given away and, in exchange, researchers hope that these outputs will translate, through assessment and ranking, into a pecuniary advantage in terms of promotion and progression (and therefore salary). There is a delayed benefit in this academic activity which exacerbates the precarious nature of academic research careers, especially those who are just starting out. Martin showed us how this symbolic economy maps onto a real economy of publishing.

We captured all of this on video that you can see below:

Click on thumbnail above to play video of talk – Open access, or: The internet is not going away


The challenge for early career researchers is to look past the rhetoric of “publish or perish” and understand the actual economics of scholarly publishing. It is for researchers themselves to push back – the status quo cannot be maintained because it is simply not sustainable and, worse, is undermining the most important aspect of publishing academic work in the first place – the need for it to be read.

The challenge for people like me who support the development of researchers is to keep pushing for the open research agenda to be embraced in institutional support for researchers, for example making it as easy as possible for postgraduate researchers to deposit their doctoral outputs in open repositories and reduce the barriers that are sometimes put in the way.

Find out more

1. Vitae Researcher Development Website on publishing your research (login required)

2. Why Open Research – new website for open researchers

3. JISC resources to help researchers with open access

4. Facilitate Open Science Training for European Researchers (FOSTER) – European-wide project supporting open research across Europe


Copyright and the e-thesis

Photo of a pile of reference books, a laptop and a daunted woman.

How to get your thesis online?

Copyright and the e-thesis

This week the UWE Graduate School put on a workshop on the topic of using third party copyrighted material in a thesis. I enlisted the help of Bennet Jones, one of the research support librarians at UWE who has the responsibility for the UWE Research Repository to explore the issue.

Disclaimer: Neither myself or Bennet are experts in legal matters relating to intellectual property or copyright so the advice given here is our interpretation of how to comply with restrictions

The reason this workshop has come about is because UWE introduced a requirement for all postgraduate researchers to place a digital copy of their thesis on the UWE Research Repository and there have been lots of queries relating to the inclusion of third party copyrighted material. This isn’t an issue isolated to UWE, many other higher education institutions are publishing research outputs on repositories – University College London published results of a survey on this issue in 2010.

All submitted UK theses are in the public domain (except for those that have all or part of the thesis embargoed) and available to anyone who requests a copy via the British Library Ethos service. The proliferation of institutional repositories has made it easier than ever to access these materials. Data from UWE’s own repository illustrates this with doctoral theses being the most frequently accessed items.

This is a good thing for the exposure of the researcher and their work, especially in an era of open access research. The downside is that it is also easier for copyright owners to identify where breaches have occurred.

The slides that Bennet used are included here.

The key points are these:

  1. If you plan to use material that was not created by yourself in your thesis you should check the copyright status of the work
  2. Establish whether the work is available in the public domain, whether it is copyrighted, and is there a license for reuse
  3. It is better to ascertain these things as you go along rather than trying to retrospectively get permissions
  4. Where copyright is owned by a third party, consider whether using alternative materials would be suitable e.g. under a creative commons license
  5. If it is integral to your thesis then seek permission to use (usually a fairly straight forward process)
  6. Keep records of permissions granted
  7. Ensure that the material is appropriately attributed
  8. Seek help if unsure




Going for gold: all or nothing on open access?

This week is Global Open Access week and is now in its eighth year. Here at the UWE Graduate School we have run a number of events in that past 3 years on the topic of open access publishing. In October 2012 we explored the topic of Open Access by introducing what was happening in terms of the policy direction of the main UK funders of research.

I think that most scholars agree that open access, in an ideal world should be the default, that the end product should be freely available to anyone that wants to access it.

Despite this agreement, there is still a lot of debate and misinformation about the direction of scholarly publishing. I think some context is required…


If you would like a background to open access publishing, the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip have a good overview video that explains why there has been a shift in scholarly publishing.

Another excellent summary was written by Phil Ward on his blog, Research Fundermentals, in a post entitled “an introduction to open access”.

Perhaps a simplistic (some may argue hyperbolic) illustration of the current state of affairs was set out by Dr Michael P Taylor writing in The Guardian newspaper, “The parable of the farmers and the Teleporting Duplicator”. It is easy to see the logic but perhaps also easy to forget that this is much more easily applied to scientific disciplines than to the rest of the academy.

UK Policy Landscape

In the UK there have been a lot of policy changes that impact on Open Access. The debates lie in how to make research outputs more accessible to everyone without damaging the sustainability of a peer reviewed system and not derailing researchers ability to publish. This was the task set by the UK Government that Dame Janet Finch undertook and the outcomes and recommendations were released in mid 2012.

There was a good piece on a BBC Radio 3 programme, “Night Waves” featuring David Willetts & Dame Janet Finch that aired on 2nd October 2012 summarises the debate well. Here’s the link to that programme:- the segment on open access begins at about 6 min 35 seconds in from the start.

The UK Research Councils (and the Government in general) have accepted these recommendations and have made quite a bold policy decision about how the outputs from research that is funded by the Research Councils should be published

The extra funding that David Willetts talks about to assist the transition has just been announced although this funding will be directed toward those who publish the most outputs from Research Council funded projects.

Not everyone is happy with the “Gold OA” preference, some see it as a victory for the publishers to have their cake and eat it whilst others have different concerns, e.g. how will universities ensure that there is funding available to researchers to facilitate the publishing of articles without prejudice? The transition to open access necessitates a period whereby two models (subscription and open access) will be running alongside each other adding to the financial burden. How do we ensure that in the rush to change things we don’t undermine researchers who produce the outputs?

More recently, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have made it clear that research outputs submitted into the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) will have to be open access from April 2016.

At UWE, Bristol

Here are some of the presentations/documents we’ve used with Early Career Researchers to introduce Open Access

Jenni Crossley (UWE Research & Knowledge Exchange Librarian) along with Alex Clarke (UWE Research Repository Manager) slides.

In 2013, the founder and editor-in-chief of Social Sciences Directory, Dan Scott, presented his view on Open Access in scholarly publishing. His presentation can be found below:


I am beginning to worry that there aren’t enough researchers who have grasped the seismic shift that is unfolding, moreso that experienced academics have yet to understand the ramifications for the next generation of researchers who will be operating in a different climate in terms of disseminating their findings. My experience is that researchers, especially those who are early on in their career, are risk averse when it comes to publishing open access. The mood appears to be to just stick to tried and tested methods from yesteryear – an approach that seems to be readily endorsed by a significant minority of supervisors/Principal Investigators.

We are in a time of change with respect to scholarly publishing, there is no doubt about that. The shift is seismic and researchers need to be ready to adapt to this new environment.

What do you think?

Getting Published – strategies for successful researchers

Research journals on a shelf

Research journals on a shelf

This week UWE put on a workshop aimed at research students and staff on the topic of getting research published.

Setting the scene

We’ve run this particular workshop for the past 10 years in which time the landscape of scholarly publishing has changed (and is still). This time we invited a number of contributors to offer different perspectives on getting published. Richard Goodman, Leila Moore and Jo Billings from Taylor & Francis publishing group came along to give their perspectives as Managing Editors of a number of journal titles. Professor Andy Adamatzky and Professor Richard McClatchey, two experienced academics and journal editors gave their insights as academic researchers.

Challenging the publish or perish rhetoric

I also gave my perspective on this, being a former researcher who now supports the development of early career researchers and an advocate of open research.

Much of my presentation (below) was drawn from what Professor Pat Thomson has to say on writing for peer reviewed journals and the differences between that and writing a doctoral thesis. In particular I found elements of her book, co-authored with Barbara Kamler, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published really useful in framing this session.

Part of the research landscape is the obsession with metrics which many fear are driving the wrong sorts of behaviour in higher education. There are many people who share my unease about advice given to early career researchers – it goes along the lines of ‘find the highest status journal with the biggest impact factor in your field and publish there at all costs’. I think this doesn’t take into account of the changing face of scholarly publishing and makes it more difficult for researchers to start the process of getting their reputation out there. I believe that researchers need to disenthrall themselves with the idea that journal impact factors are a good indicator of research quality.

It can’t be ignored that a publication record is important in academia but I think the focus should come back to the purpose of scholarly writing and understanding who it is you are writing for. I talked about how difficult it can be to write for peer reviewed journals, it is hard because it requires a different approach to that of writing a thesis or writing an application for funding because the reader is different in all those cases. The context is the key thing here.


Here’s the slides I used on the day.

A publishers’ point of view

Richard Goodman then gave a publishers’ point of view on the publishing process giving an useful overview of the mechanics. There was recognition that the open access agenda is changing things and that publishers will have to adapt their practices to accommodate the shift. The slides he and his colleagues used are included here:

Many researchers fall at the first hurdle when submitting a manuscript to a journal simply by not understanding the scope and format that the journal accepts – reading and understanding the journal’s guidelines/instructions for authors is an essential step.

The changing landscape of scholarly publishing

Probably the easiest way (and my preferred way) of explaining the changing nature of research is through the medium of Piled Higher and Deeper Comics

It’s important to place scholarly publishing in the wider context of the drive to be more open and transparent with research – not just with removing barriers to the outputs of research but opening up the whole research process.

Funders of research in the UK have applied some pressure for this change by incorporating the requirements to be open into the conditions of funding but I think it is also worth pointing out that open research is good for the researcher themselves.

Using digital tools to boost your reputation

A key factor in the changing landscape is to use the tools at your disposal to promote your research, the outputs and indeed your interests as a researcher. There was some discussion about how you can do this (see the Taylor and Francis presentation) and I also run a further workshop on this entitled The Digital Researcher. The next one is in February.

Jorge Cham of PHDcomics helps explain the issue of communication.


Academics’ point of view on publishing

Richard McClatchey and Andy Adamatzky gave a short and valuable insight to how experienced academics approach publshing and indeed academic writing as part of their daily work. Their tips are summarised here.


Further resources and advice

1. Help and resources for authors from Taylor & Francis

2. Vitae Researcher Development Website on publishing your research (login required)

3. Why Open Research – new website for open researchers

4. JISC resources to help researchers with open access

5. Facilitate Open Science Training for European Researchers (FOSTER) – European-wide project supporting open research across Europe

Submitting your thesis electronically

Photo of a pile of reference books, a laptop and a daunted woman.

How to get your thesis online?

This week we ran a workshop to introduce the changes to the process of submitting a doctoral thesis at UWE. From September 2013, all doctoral candidates are required to submit an electronic version of their final thesis alongside a hard bound copy. The context of this is to make it easier for anyone to access the research outputs from universities – the open access agenda which I wrote about here.

We invited the managers of the UWE Research Repository, Alex Clarke and Anna Lawson to explain a bit more about how the repository came about and how to deposit a thesis. Here are their supporting slides.