Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications

by Sarah Kember 

Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications was a one-day event that aimed to widen the dialogue on open access books, examining the implications of UK policy for research culture and values, the future of scholarly publishing and for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS). Academics were given centre stage in recognition of the fact that open access policy impacts researchers and universities at least as much as scholarly publishing, and because preceding events had focused on input from other stakeholders including publishers and learned societies.

Key themes included a review of the relation between monographs and open access; how to move beyond the impasse of ideological oppositions; differences between open access for science and humanities; scholar-led open access and the relation between open access and copyright reforms. The spirit of the event was both reflective and practical, oriented to acknowledging the challenges of open access that have already been addressed while exploring remaining issues in funding and policy, research assessment, quality assurance and peer review and academic freedom. The event highlighted questions of difference and diversity throughout, and included perspectives from early career and retired academics.

Open access remains a contentious area of debate and policy and the rationale for this event was to acknowledge and even affirm that in order to seek a route forwards – given the significance of its impact on publishing and the academy. There was, characteristically, no consensus in a room composed of researchers, managers, publishers, librarians, funders and other interested parties. There was, however, a shared commitment to a future ecology of scholarly publishing and communications in AHSS that is sustainable and diverse.

This report includes detailed summaries of the main contributions and discussions, and the key recommendations are listed below. As well as funding and mandates, the principle concerns were with open access policies and models designed for and derived from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields with, as yet, little adaptation to AHSS. In light of the differences in research practice, process, output and funding between STEM and AHSS disciplines, there can be no simple adaptation or automatic progression from STEM to AHSS or from journal to monograph publishing. The consistent value of the monograph to AHSS research culture needs to be recognised, even as it continues to evolve as a form of scholarly communication and intersect with other forms of textual and non-textual research.

Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications focused on UK policy in light of the alignment between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Research Excellence Framework (REF) policy. While that broad alignment was affirmed during the event, the relative autonomy of UKRI and REF open access policy was, notably, underlined, along with the fact that REF policy for 2027 is still to be determined. I hope that this report will contribute, in some part, to the development and co-ordination of policies that have such far-reaching consequence for universities in the UK and for the publishing sector globally.

Professor Sarah Kember
Director of Goldsmiths Press
Professor of New Technologies of Communications, Goldsmiths University of London

Key Recommendations 

  • Develop an open access policy that recognises and responds to the distinctiveness of AHSS
  • Involve AHSS researchers at every career stage in developing priorities for open access
  • Look beyond the gold and green model
  • Highlight values of academic freedom, equality and diversity
  • Recognise the importance of practice research
  • Reflect on open access in a global context
  • Reconsider the mandate for open access monographs in light of the significant differences between STEM and AHSS
  • Separate any mandate for open access monographs from the REF
  • Acknowledge that few UK universities can afford to cover the costs of gold open access monograph publishing
  • Re-evaluate a set of priorities and objectives for scholarly communications before
  • Reject fee-based models that lack adequate funding developing business models to support them

Additional Resources 

Sarah Kember, UKSG newsletter

Sarah Kember, The Guardian 

Benedicte Page, The Bookseller 

Alastair Horne, London Bookfair newsletter