In a fillip for supporters of open access to medical-research results, the government has accepted most of the recommendations in a working-group report on expanding access to the published findings of any research funded by the UK taxpayer.

The government will take on board all bar one of the recommendations by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, set up in October 2011 and chaired by Dame Janet Finch, Professor of Sociology at Manchester University and independent co-chair of the Council for Science and Technology.

The working group’s report, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, was published on 18 June 2012.

It called for a “balanced programme of action” that would enable more people to read and use publications arising from research funded in the UK, while accelerating progress towards a full open-access environment.

Transparency is key

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts had already made clear when he announced the working group last September that transparency was “at the heart of the government’s agenda” and “should apply to published research”.

The government wanted the best value out of UK innovation, in line with its broader economic-growth agenda, and that meant maximising access to and use of research findings, Willetts said. 

Gold standard

The Finch report recognised that a number of different channels for communicating research results would remain important over the next few years.

At the same time, it recommended a clear policy direction towards support for ‘gold’ open-access publishing, where publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, in the form of article processing charges (APCs). This allows research articles to be made freely accessible as soon as they are published.

The report also called for extensions to current licensing arrangements in the higher education, health and other sectors; improvements to the infrastructure of research repositories; and support for the moves by publishers to provide free access to their global research journals through public libraries.

The only point of dissent in the government’s response related to a proposal that value added tax (VAT) should be applied to e-journals but not printed books and journals.

“Consideration has been given to this, but, in consultation with Treasury it has become evident that current VAT rules agreed at EU level preclude a reduced or zero rate for e-journals,” the government stated.

Block grants

The working group’s recommendations were also welcomed by Research Councils UK, which has issued its own policy on open access, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is developing proposals to make open-access published research the basis for the Research Excellence Framework after 2014.