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Free access to British research in publishing shake-up

Taxpayer-funded research will be freely available for anyone to access online, the Government is set to announce in a major reform of academic publishing.

Universities and science minister David Willets will outline the plans today, with the transition to be complete by 2014.

Journal publishers currently make large profits by locking research behind paywalls, but there are fears that changing the system could limit the amount of research published in theUK, especially before any other EU country makes a similar move.

UKuniversities currently pay around £200m a year in subscription fees to journals. Under the new plans, authors will have to pay Article Processing Charges (APCs) for their papers to be peer-reviewed, edited and made freely available online – costing around £2,000 per article to publish.

The Government’s decision is a formal response to the recommendations made in a major report into open access publishing, led by Professor Dame Janet Finch. Willets will accept all proposals, apart from one specific point on VAT, which is under consideration at the Treasury. 

In an interview with the Guardian, Willets said: “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn’t be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it. This will take time to build up, but within a couple of years we should see this fully feeding through.”

The transition could cost £50m a year, and must be covered by the existing science budget. This means there may be less funding available for research. University professors have also expressed concern that competition for funding to publish papers could lead to a rationing of research.

Professor Adam Tickell, pro-vice chancellor of research and knowledge transfer atBirminghamUniversity, and a member of the Finch working group, said: “I am very concerned that there are not any additional funds to pay for the transition, because the costs will fall disproportionately on the research intensive universities. There isn’t the fat in the system that we can easily pay for that.”

The costs would lead to “a reduction in research grants, or an effective charge on our income,” he added. 

But Willets said: “There is a transitional cost to go through, but it’s overall of benefit to our research community and there's general acceptance it's the right thing to do. 

“The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded. I think there’s a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget.”

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