The UK government has "widely accepted" the recommendations of a major report into open-access publishing that was released in June by a 15-strong working group led by the British sociologist Janet Finch. The Finch report concluded that the UK should lead the way in transforming scientific publishing from a "reader pays" to an "author pays" model, supporting the need for a fee – known as an "article processing charge" – to fund open-access journals. The report has also called for the UK research councils to "establish more effective and flexible arrangements to meet the cost of publishing in open access and hybrid journals".

In a letter to Finch outlining the government's support for the report, UK science minister David Willetts says that the UK government recognizes "that while open access means free access to the user and full right of search, it does not follow that open access has no cost". He adds that publicly funded research institutions will need help in paying for article processing charges with this funding set to come out of "existing research funds". The only proposal by Finch that will not be implemented is a recommended reduction in value added tax for e-journals, which Willetts says would contravene EU rules.

Willetts states in the letter that the government favours the use of "gold" open-access publishing, whereby authors pay a fee to publish in an open-access journal and the paper is then immediately made available for anyone to read for free. It prefers this to "green" open-access publishing, where the published paper is placed behind a publisher's paywall but then deposited into a centralized free-to-access repository after a certain embargo period. If a particular journal does not support gold publication, however, researchers will be required to place their papers in a repository within six months of publication. If funding is not provided for gold publication, publishers may extend the embargo period before papers can be made freely available from six months to 12.

Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, which publishes physicsworld.com, welcomes the government's commitment to support almost all of the recommendations of the Finch report. "The response recognises the importance of the academic publishing sector that delivers jobs and exports for the UK, and of learned societies such as the Institute of Physics, whose educational and outreach activities depend on gift aid from our publishing company," he says.

Yet Knight says that there will be "complex challenges" that could carry additional costs in the transition to open access. "We are concerned that these transitional costs appear set to fall on the science budget, reducing the funding available for UK researchers to carry on the work that has put this country at the forefront of many fields, including physics," he warns. One issue in particular is that other countries will get free access to UK-based research while the UK has to still pay for journal subscriptions to access work done at foreign institutions.

Towards 2014

Research Councils UK (RCUK) – an umbrella organization for seven UK research councils – has also announced that, from April 2013, any scientific paper that results from research wholly or partially funded by RCUK must either be put into an open-access journal or in a journal that allows papers to be deposited in a repository. In the latter case, the paper must be put in a repository within six months and must include all changes resulting from peer review. However, RCUK has also announced that any article-processing charges will not be covered in research grant applications, but rather through "block grants" awarded to universities, although how this will work in practice is not yet clear.

In a statement from Nature Publishing Group (NPG), which publishes the Nature suite of journals, they welcome RCUK's announcement to make centralized funding available to institutions to pay open-access publication charges. NPG also says that its existing self-archiving policy is already fully compliant with RCUK's new policy of encouraging self-archiving for public access six months after publication. However, the firm is urging RCUK and its funding bodies to "quickly clarify the process for allocating funds to UK institutions, so that they can establish procedures and make the transition towards gold open access as smooth as possible for funded researchers". 

Open access on the horizon

Meanwhile, the European Commission (EC) announced today that it will make open access "a general principle" of its next funding programme, called Horizon 2020, which runs from 2014 to 2020. In a statement it says that from 2014 all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be either accessible immediately via gold open access (with up-front publication costs eligible for reimbursement by the EC) or available in an open-access repository no later than six months after publication.

The EC also recommends that its members take a similar approach to open-access publishing and sets a goal of 60% of European publicly funded research is available under open access by 2016.