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In the aftermath of Aaron Swartz’s death, which propelled the argument over open access into the headlines, a collection of university professors in the United Kingdom are pushing back against a new government policy that is attempting to implement open access to academic publications.
The UK minister of state for universities and science David Willetts is planning to make all publicly funded research available for free by 2014, a decision that recently prompted a critical response from a select group of academics. Academic professors associated with the Royal Historical Society, the Political Studies Association, and the Council for the Defence of British Universities have expressed their concern over Willetts’s decision.
“As the leaders of a diverse group of learned societies, charitable organisations that exist to promote our respective academic disciplines, we support the idea of more open access to academic research. There are, however, a number of problems with the rushed policy,” stated a select group of academics in a letter published on January 25.
In the letter, the group of academics criticizes the new policy for being implemented too quickly and without proper consideration for all the groups within academia that will be affected. Specifically, the letter states that while the effect of the new policy on the academic worlds of technology, mathematics, and the sciences has been given consideration, policy makers have neglected to consider how the policy will impact the social sciences and humanities.
The authors also argue that the new policy puts too much control in the hands of universities, which they say will become the overall “gatekeepers” of the publishing world. They state, “No longer will publishing be governed solely by peer review, but instead by a university committee, likely to be of non-experts and governed by institutional considerations rather than academic quality.” In addition, they also criticize how the policy will shift the burden of paying fees for publishing to the authors.
Despite the authors’ disapproval of the new policy, they do not fully condemn the idea of moving toward open access, but rather hope for more intensive scrutiny of how the policy is developed.
According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Willetts is scheduled to give an update about the new policy to parliament next week.
Tadween Publishing first reported in December 2012 on the United Kingdom’s shift toward open access. In July 2012, the UK government decided to take the advice of a report issued by Janet Finch of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, which suggested that publicly funded research be made available for free to everyone.