COAF ends this week, but not all break ups have to be painful

The Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), a block grant provided through a partnership of health research charities to enable publications to be immediately open access, ends on 30 September 2020. All COAF partners remain committed to open access and will continue to fund associated costs, but how they do so will vary.

COAF was established in 2014 and since then has awarded block grants annually to 36 institutions. As one of those institutions, we have allocated £1.5 million of COAF grant funds to make over 600 papers open access and help increase their visibility, reuse and impact. So, from our perspective it is a shame to see COAF end, but we understand why it must as the funders start to adapt their previously shared policy to Plan S at different rates.

However, this does not mean that researchers funded by the former-COAF partners can no longer make their papers open access. The Wellcome Trust, CRUK and BHF will be providing separate block grants to the university to support their researchers. Blood Cancer UK and Parkinson’s UK will now allow open access to be costed into their grants or applied for directly from the funder. Versus Arthritis researchers can also request funds for open access directly from the charity.

We’ve updated the funders’ information on the open access website to reflect this and are adapting our processes to support researchers funded by the different charities. If you have publications you plan to submit or that have already been accepted and want to discuss how this might affect your paper, please do contact the open access team.

As you may have picked up from reading this, many funder are changing their policies to implement Plan S. For the Wellcome Trust, that will be from Jan 01 2021 and for CRUK from Jan 01 2022, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Transformative agreements – an easier route to open access

Complex road layout

Our ‘Read and Publish’ agreements with publishers allow researchers to both read subscription journals and to make articles they publish in those journals open access at no cost. We have already signed agreements with publishers including Wiley, Springer, IOP and the RSC, meaning you can publish open access for free in thousands of journals. Further agreements with other publishers are currently being negotiated and evaluated.

Read and Publish (R&P) agreements make open access easier, quicker and cheaper. However, the broader aim of these nationally-negotiated agreements is to transform all subscription journals to full and immediate open access.

This is intended to restart a transition to open access that stalled with ‘hybrid journals‘ (subscription journals that offer open access for individual papers.) While these have allowed more research to be made open, the separate revenue streams journals continued to receive for both subscriptions and open access wasn’t sustainable.

To address this these new ‘transformative agreements’ require publishers to make an explicit commitment to transition to open access. They must demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of content published as open access and convert to full open access once an agreed proportion is reached. For example, the R&P deal with Wiley will lead to 85% of UK-authored articles in Wiley journals being open access by the end of this year, reaching 100% by 2022.

These agreements will also make a wider range of research open access, regardless of the discipline or research funding that may have supported it. Again using the Wiley agreement as an example, since starting in March 2020 we have approved 50 articles by researchers working in a wide range of disciplines. Without this agreement only 15 of these articles could have been made open access using funds from our UKRI or COAF block grants. Our agreement with Sage shows a similar pattern – we’ve approved 25 papers since June 2020 and could otherwise have made just two of these open access. Our longest-standing agreement is with Springer and has allowed us to make more than 300 papers open access since 2015.

At a more practical level these agreements also greatly reduce the amount of administration required from authors and from the open access team. When an eligible paper from one of our authors is accepted the publisher will send us a request to approve open access under the agreement. All we need to do is click ‘approve’. We don’t need to raise purchase orders, wait for invoices to arrive, send them to finance for payment, all of which means your papers are likely to be published open access more quickly.

There is of course a cost to these agreements. The price we pay for these agreements is based on our current subscription spend with a publisher and our average open access spend with them in previous years. Significantly however these agreements set out and constrain future costs to make them more transparent and sustainable.

In considering which publisher agreements to sign up to we have evaluate not just the costs, but the relative benefits. For example, while many agreements offer unlimited open access publishing, some limit the number of eligible papers at either an institutional or national level. Others may restrict the types of articles that are eligible. However, more and more suitable agreements are emerging from national negotiations and we intend to sign up to as many of these as we can to play our part in helping transform academic publishing to full and immediate open access.

Welcome to ‘Opening Research’

Welcome to Opening Research, the blog for Library Research Services at Newcastle University. Library Research Services are aimed at, but by no means exclusive to, all Newcastle researchers and Professional Services staff in research-related roles, offering support and advice throughout the research lifecycle. Our team can offer help and expertise on:

These are all areas that are impacting on the work of our researchers today and we can help you understand the various policies and options researchers are presented with before, during and after the research process. It is important to us that we help researchers comply with their funders’ requirements, but we would like to go beyond that by promoting and advocating for good research practice and culture. Therefore, we intend the blog to be more than just a tool to communicate our services to you. We would like to use it as an opportunity to engage those involved in research and research support in discussions and debates about what is happening in the research landscape today.

I have been working in academic libraries for over 27 years, the last 17 at Newcastle University and for most of that time I’ve been directly supporting researchers one way or another. From RAE and REF submissions, to establishing open access platforms publishing Newcastle research, to liaising with publishers and consortia to get the best subscription and publishing deals possible, and I have never known as much change as that which is taking place now. For example:

  • Are you aware of Plan S?
  • Have you heard of DORA?
  • Do you know that Newcastle University has agreements with publishers that allow you to publish your papers open access at no cost to you?
  • What are the proposed open access requirements for the post-2021REF?
  • Who is challenging the established research culture in institutions and why?

These are just some of the current issues that will impact on researchers working lives and we will be discussing in future blog posts. We hope you find them interesting and encourage you to join the debate or start the discussion yourself.

Amanda Boll
Head of Research Publications and Data Management Services