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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 99-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
Tuesday 14 May 2013
Rt Hon David Willetts MP and Ron Egginton
Evidence heard in Public Questions 111-157
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Taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
on Tuesday 14 May 2013
Mr Adrian Bailey (Chair)
Mr Brian Binley
Mr Robin Walker
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon Mr David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, and Ron Egginton OBE, Head of the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council Team, Research Funding Unit, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Observer on the Finch working group, gave evidence.
Q111 Chair: Good morning, Minister and Mr Egginton. Thank you for agreeing to speak to the Committee. If you are comfortable with doing so, we will start a little earlier. I know your time is constrained, and so is mine on this occasion. I welcome you and invite you to introduce yourselves for voice transcription purposes.
Mr Willetts: David Willetts, Member of Parliament for Havant, Minister for Universities and Science.
Ron Egginton: Ron Egginton. I am sponsor for BBSRC and ESRC in BIS, and leading on policy advice to the Minister on this subject.
Chair: Thanks very much. Before I open the questions, Brian Binley wants to make a comment.
Mr Binley: I need to declare an interest: I am the founder and non-exec chairman of a company that supports the business-to-business publishing sector with regard to the collection of data. It is right and proper I should declare that interest.
Q112 Chair: Thank you. I will open with a question to the Minister. In July 2012, the Government formally accepted the key Finch report recommendations that a "clear policy direction" should be set towards gold open access funded by article-processing charges "as the main vehicle for the publication of research". Subsequent responses seem to have muddled that slightly. Could you just clarify whether the Government’s open access policy direction has changed since then?
Mr Willetts: I stand by those statements that you reported, Mr Chairman. That is our view. It was a response to the excellent work that Janet Finch did in her report. We believe in open access. Of course there is going to be a mixed economy for a long time, but we, like Janet Finch, in the long run have a preference for gold over green, to use the terminology.
Q113 Chair: RCUK’s policy is effectively neutral towards green and gold, and HEFCE has proposed to mandate immediate deposit in institutional repositories for the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. On the surface it would appear that their approach is slightly different from yours. Could you comment on that?
Mr Willetts: I am slightly surprised about how you characterise the view of the Research Councils. They can speak for themselves. What the Research Councils have quite correctly done is set aside funding-and we have helped them with this-to pay for gold open access, and that actively promotes it.
Perhaps I should have said-my previous answer was a bit too short-that, although gold and green both have their pros and cons, Finch came out in favour of gold above all, with arguments I accept, because, first, gold achieves the ideal end point of publicly funded research being openly accessible from day one. Secondly, it recognises openly that publication, distribution and communication is part of a legitimate research cost; it does not hide that cost. Thirdly, you can set the conditions for the deposit of the data behind the research-the so-called CC-BY option. Again, I know there is controversy about exactly how that is done, but nevertheless you can require the underlying data to be made accessible, which has some quite significant technical challenges. I see all those three things as big prizes, but we are realists and we are pragmatic; we are not suddenly going to have everything published in gold open access with article-processing charges from day one. We agree with Janet Finch’s recommendations, though, that that is the superior model in the long run.
Q114 Chair: RCUK has revised and re-revised its approach, but you can say that, as far as the Government is concerned, this is the approach that you want to be taken?
Mr Willetts: Yes. When they revised it we ended up with the Publishers Association decision tree, of which I have a copy somewhere in this briefing. We have ended up with a decision tree for the determination of embargo periods, which is the agreed account of policy, and that is what the Government, the Research Councils and the Publishers Association all agree on.
Q115 Chair: A decision tree?
Mr Willetts: The Publishers Association decision tree. It was initially drawn up by the Publishers Association in consultation with BIS and RCUK. It is on their website, it is on the Government website and I find it by far the clearest and most useful summary of how the open access decisions are taken.
Chair: Just before I bring in Katy Clark, I should apologise for the fact that this Hearing coincides with Treasury Questions. One Member, Ann McKechin, has had to disappear to do an opening question, but will be back, and Katy will have to disappear to ask her question. Please do not take it as a reflection on the answers or the deliberations here.
Q116 Katy Clark: Dame Janet Finch has said that she did not compose the working group on expanding access to the published research findings. How was the membership decided and by whom?
Mr Willetts: The membership was decided by myself in consultation with the different bodies. Before the group was set up we had had various roundtables in BIS and elsewhere. It was deliberately intended to reflect the wide range of different interests: higher education, Royal Society, other learned societies and publishers. To be frank, back in 2010 and early 2011 I found this massive argument going on, in which the publishers and the research community were basically at loggerheads. I convened one or two meetings in BIS to try to find a way forward and we thought that if all the different interests were properly represented in a group chaired by Janet Finch we might be able to find a way forward, and I think we have succeeded. I think the working group has all the key interests represented.
Q117 Katy Clark: Leading economists in open access policy, like Professor John Houghton and Dr Alma Swan, have told us that the BIS innovation agenda is best served by green open access, which we have already referred to, and that what they call the "expensive solution" proposed by Finch does virtually nothing for the innovative business sector. What evidence from the UK business sector outside of publishing was used to formulate the Government’s open access policy?
Mr Willetts: I know there are some advocates of green. As I say, green is going to be part of how open access is achieved, but I think Finch rightly went for gold. Ron might want to come in on the detailed evidence, but one of the advantages of gold-namely that the research is openly available from day one-is absolutely of great value to SMEs and innovative new companies that do not want to have some important research project behind a paywall for six, 12 or 24 months, all of which are possible with green. My view is that green has a hidden cost. With gold, you publicly recognise that there is some cost for the process of publication and assessment. Green pays that cost by publishers being able to continue having their publication behind a paywall for a certain period. That is a period during which an SME may not be able to access it. I do not know if Ron wants to add to that.
Ron Egginton: Certainly, Minister. The RCUK’s preference, like the Government’s, is very much towards gold over green. However, green is accepted, as the Minister has explained. The reason why they have that preference for gold, in addition to what the Minister has referred to in terms of immediate access, searching and so on, is because it provides immediate access to information in such a way that small companies and others can then utilise the information without restriction and immediately for economic purposes.
The same study you are referring to by Dr Swan, which I believe was the one in Denmark, actually showed that the cost to Denmark was €70 million per year due to the inefficiencies of companies trying to find information to innovate and develop new products. If you scale that up in proportion to GDP in the UK, it amounts to about €525 million per year. In terms of the efficiency with which companies are able to access information, use that information for new products and their own research instead of spending hours trying to find things and then having to pay through various paywalls, this is a major step forward.
Q118 Katy Clark: I think the point they are making is that Rolls-Royce was the only business interest outside the publishing representatives on Finch group. Do you think that is fair? Do you think you were wide enough in terms of those views that you listened to, given that it is being said that what you have come up with is a very expensive solution?
Mr Willetts: It is not an expensive solution. It publicly and transparently reveals that part of the cost of scientific research is the costs of publication and communication. That does not make the policy more expensive; it is just more open about those costs than the other options. The other options hide the costs and hide the way they are reclaimed via the paywall model. I do not agree with that assumption and, as I said, I think it was a broadly-based working group deliberately chosen to represent all the different interests. Janet Finch did an excellent job bringing them to a shared view.
Q119 Caroline Dinenage: On the subject of cost, despite what you say, we have had a lot of evidence about the extremely high cost of many subscriptions and of some article-processing charges. Is the Government’s open access policy aimed at reducing the overall cost of access to published research findings for UK universities and taxpayers?
Mr Willetts: You are right that there are different forms of cost. One form of cost is paying the cost of a publication. The subscription cost of a publication is one way in which you pay for the costs of peer-reviewing, sub-editing and checking research proposals. The other way of doing it in the gold model is through these article-processing charges. We would hope for competitive pressures meaning that publishers are competing for the opportunity of publishing research papers, and that could and should bring down article-processing charges.
Q120 Caroline Dinenage: Elsevier told us that regardless of whether publication of articles was funded by subscription charges or by article-processing charges, the overall cost to universities would not decrease. Why do you think they would have said that?
Mr Willetts: I think it probably would not be right to speculate on their reasons, but we will see. I hope that there will be the emergence of a competitive market in articleprocessing charges, but our modelling has not assumed that there are some massive changes in the costs of this industry. Our article-processing charges are aimed at broadly reflecting the average cost in the system at the moment. I personally think that there is massive technical change hitting this industry that is going to change the cost structure massively, and at the end of the day there will be savings, but we are not taking that for granted.
Q121 Mr Binley: Minister, good morning. Your Department has two important but often conflicting objectives. One is to cut public expenditure and the second is to produce business growth. That is solidified in this particular area of activity, and I wonder what assessment your Department has done, in real terms, of the impact of these particular measures on business-to-business publishing.
Mr Willetts: Business-to-business publishing?
Mr Binley: Yes, indeed, because that is where this impacts.
Mr Willetts: We have produced this economic analysis-
Mr Binley: Yes, but it does not cover this, Minister.
Mr Willetts: I know; it was only a partial assessment. For business publishing, it is simply part of the wider picture. In terms of public expenditure, this is all within the science budget; this is all within the £4.6 billion science budget, so we are holding total public expenditure fixed. We have carved out, and Research Councils have carved out, an element in the overall ring-fenced science budget to pay for the article-processing charges, so it is not a public expenditure issue. For the publishing industry, my personal view is it is hitting massive technical change, and one of the reasons why we got into this whole review was that, rather than just sitting on our hands passively observing this turbulence in the sector, we wanted to steer it to a better outcome. I have clearly not picked up on some specific issue you have in mind.
Q122 Mr Binley: It is a sizeable business sector, it employs quite a lot of people, it is an important sector for British industry worldwide and we need to understand the impact upon that particular industry. I have not heard anything from you that suggests you understand that.
Mr Willetts: I would say that, unlike some of the hotheads who regard academic publishing or publishing for research as an exploitative ramp of rent-seekers, I think there is some genuine added value in the whole process.
Mr Binley: I agree.
Mr Willetts: Some people who just say, "You should require them to publish all the work straightaway without paying for that", I thought were failing to recognise that academic publishing or research publishing, is, as you rightly say, a British success and does add value. Again, one of the arguments for gold, or some versions of green, is that it recognises that publication adds value and needs to be paid for.
Q123 Mr Binley: Minister, I understand the difficulties you face about a particular sector of a sector, because that is what we are talking about. Can I ask you to look into this and come back to us? Would that be an easier way of dealing with it?
Mr Willetts: Mr Egginton, do you have anything to add now?
Ron Egginton: If I may, yes. If I understand your point correctly, you are concerned about the status or wellbeing of the publishing industry itself.
Q124 Mr Binley: Particularly the business-to-business sector, which is very important in this country.
Ron Egginton: Yes. We understand the publishing industry is an extremely important industry that we highly value. It employs about 10,000 people in the UK, has £1 billion turnover, and has 80% exports-invisible exports. As we have said all the way through on the development of this policy, we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We were quite pleased to see that, in a recent financial analysis done by HSBC in February, it concluded that the effect of our policies was neutral on the industry.
Mr Binley: Will you look at it slightly further because I have evidence or at least information that might suggest that there is a cost here, and it could impact upon a business that has suffered for the past five years quite sizeably? Just look at that, come back to us and reassure us that you have done that assessment and you are clear that that is the case.
Mr Willetts: Yes, certainly.
Q125 Chair: Just before we go on to the next questioner, could I just ask you to amplify? You talked about the profound technological changes taking place in the publishing industry. I would assume that is about internet publication and so on, but could you just briefly outline what changes you think are taking place, how you see them and how that has been factored in to the policy?
Mr Willetts: The shift to publication online means that the old way of protecting and requiring people to pay for your product-they had to go and physically buy a publication-is replaced by putting it behind a paywall online, which can be harder to enforce. That is the first change. The second change is the speed with which, in areas like medical sciences in particular, research is absorbed and goes from being hot to being out of date.
Perhaps the most significant in the long run, but the most technical in the short run, is the third change. There is a prize here of access to all the data sets behind publicly funded research, not just in the UK but in the other leading science nations. I have been at international discussions where, looking around the table, we have recognised that between us we are paying for 75% of the world’s cancer research. Just imagine that every data set behind every piece of cancer research funded by a public agency in the UK, Germany or the US was searchable with a common technical standard. I see linking up the data sets as ultimately the big prize. That again is why I think academic publishing is a genuinely value-added activity. For that you need to agree a set of technical standards and the data has to be available in a certain form. It is not necessarily the case that a cancer expert working away at Addenbrooke’s will also be an expert in exactly how the data for his cancer research project should be made accessible to someone doing another cancer research project in San Francisco. That is the big prize here. Although CC-BY has its detractors and it is not perfect, one of the reasons why I particularly like gold open access is the requirement to deposit the underlying data in an accessible form with a shared technical standard. I think that will be transformational in the future.
Q126 Mr Walker: What you are talking about is extremely exciting, but, for that to succeed, we need a degree of international agreement on how these things will be co-ordinated. It does seem that some of the evidence we have taken has suggested that the UK is slightly out on a limb in terms of the position that we are taking for gold open access. We may be showing leadership, which is very respectable and positive, but in order to make sure we are not at a competitive disadvantage, do we not need other countries to join us in embracing that position?
Mr Willetts: You say "out on a limb"; I say "pioneering". The fact is that you are right. There is a genuine issue about whether it is a firstmover advantage or disadvantage. There are some challenges you face if you are first mover. This is not just my personal view-we obviously talk very closely-there are also some first-mover advantages. You can help shape the debate. The same debate is absolutely happening in the US, it is happening in the EU and, indeed, I hope in the G8 science strand discussion, we will be able to provide a forum for it to be discussed amongst science ministers and learned societies. They are all wrestling with the same trade-offs.
Q127 Chair: I am sorry to delay this further, but there is just a point I would like to pick up. Earlier, in the context of cancer research, you talked about access to open data. The Government has been accused of conflating open data and open access, which are different things. You appear to be doing exactly that in this context.
Mr Willetts: Open access is the research publication. The data is the underlying data records on which the research findings rest. I am putting it very crudely, but imagine there have been 1,000 patients with some particular form of cancer that have been studied for this particular publication. What you need to do, as the data element of this, is clean up. We have reliable data, obviously anonymised, available in a form that is comparable and that an IT system, also analysing 1,000 patients in a German research project carried out in Dusseldorf, can analyse. The aim is that then somebody in the future will be able to machine-search data from hundreds of thousands of cancer patients and aggregate it all. That is what I mean by the data. That is not quite the same as the Cabinet Office public data agenda. It is part of it, but it is specifically the data behind research findings.
Chair: Yes, but it was not clear before.
Q128 Nadhim Zahawi: Several commercial publishers have "no doubledipping" policies, under which subscription list prices are modified in arrears in proportion to the uptake of gold open access. We have heard evidence explaining why this policy does not work since the UK is double-paying for subscriptions and gold open access, and, through the proportionate reduction in subscription prices, would be effectively subsidising the subscriptions paid by the rest of the world. What is your view on this?
Mr Willetts: There is an issue about double-dipping, but the decision that had to be taken was this: you could go for a pure approach, where you say gold open access is for specific open access journals and you can run a complete journal that is all pure gold open access, at which point you do not have any hybrids and you know exactly where you are. It is a legitimate route that some Western countries are going down, but the evidence is, if you go down that route, it is slower to spread gold open access than if you allow hybrids. Hybrids mean that a journal can have some of the articles that have been paid for with the articleprocessing charge and others financed in other ways.
Once you allow the hybrid-which has its imperfections, but our evidence is it spreads gold open access more rapidly-you then do indeed have a potential problem of doubledipping. Mr Egginton might like to comment. We do not have any power specifically to ban doubledipping. We do not welcome it and there are some quite ingenious attempts to avoid it, of which the Royal Society of Chemistry Gold for Gold scheme is one that we particularly welcome. If it would be helpful, Mr Egginton will describe that.
Q129 Nadhim Zahawi: Could you say a bit more about that, Mr Egginton?
Ron Egginton: The Royal Society of Chemistry has introduced a scheme whereby they are not discounting the subscription charges for access to their various journals, but they are saying that they will take into account the financial payment of those subscription charges, divide it by something like £1,600, and that will equate to the number of gold open access papers that you can then publish in those journals. It has the advantage of making the customer feel as though they are getting something additional for the payments they are making for subscriptions and, as you quite rightly say, are not being charged twice.
The more that type of thinking can be seen to permeate through the publishing industry, the better. Conversely, the more publishers can take into account what they are receiving in article-processing charges from particular institutions and discount the subscription rates to those institutions, wherever they happen to be-whether in the UK or anywhere else around the world-the better. Then that will mean that they do not feel as though they are paying twice and it will accelerate the process of conversion to gold open access.
Q130 Mr Binley: Can I follow on from that? The evidence submitted by Dr Alma Swan on 8 May to this body raised some serious concerns, which I am sure you will be aware of. Publishers in certain cases were creating new policy, which included embargo of 24 months. Alma Swan said that she said this would happen, and this really is creating problems throughout and making the whole thing more difficult. Recently, a large commercial publisher has amended its online systems so that when a UK author's paper is accepted, the author is asked if he is funded by a UK Research Council, and if answering, "Yes", the author is directed to pay a fee for gold open access. A senior academic wrote on his blog that "the publisher was deliberately and disgracefully misleading the author about the RCUK policy on open access in order to take money from them". I could go on, but can you convince us otherwise, because if that is the case, this is one of the less helpful pieces of the work that the Government has decided to do?
Mr Willetts: I am trying to find again the decision tree. The decision tree does apply to the publicly funded research, and in certain circumstances, that provides for a paywall under green open access of up to 24 months. I accept that is part of the model, if gold were not available. We recognise that. Again, Mr Egginton may want to add to this, but what we are going through is a big change and there is a range of anxieties about what could happen in the future. We do not have any widespread evidence of what you just reported happening now, but I would happily give this Committee the assurance that we will be monitoring very closely how this plays out. Janet Finch and I will be having a joint meeting on implementation after the summer break. Research Councils are going to review how implementation is going next year. I get a host of anxieties from learned societies worried that they are going to lose their funding or some of these other things. They cannot all be true. Some of them may happen and if they do happen, we will take it very seriously.
Q131 Mr Binley: Let me give you some of the evidence that we have received. We have received recent reports of a major British publisher revising its open access policy to require embargoes of 24 months, where previously it had required immediate unembargoed deposit in a repository. Indeed, Alma Swan goes on to say that the really awful thing is that their university is in Australia, so "the dire consequences of the UK’s policy are, as we all predicted, damaging OA all over the world. 10 years’ work in getting mandates across the globe with maximum six-month embargoes are undone (embarrassingly) by the UK." That is pretty heavy criticism.
Mr Willetts: There are circumstances where you can have 24 months’ green open access in certain cases, particularly in some of the humanities and social sciences. However, net, everyone else is telling us that we have got more research findings available earlier, not that we are going backwards. Are you familiar with this particular complaint, Ron?
Ron Egginton: We have not had any particular examples cited to us, by name, of companies who are doing what you are suggesting or saying is happening. However, I think we possibly need to take a step back to who is actually deciding where the article gets published. That is the researcher. The way in which we have reconfigured the industry’s operations in this sense with regard to open access is to put the power in the researcher’s hands to decide where they want to have the article published. If they feel that a particular publisher is acting in a way that is not satisfactory from their point of view, they are perfectly free to take their article to a different publisher.
However, we hear the reference to gold versus green and the relative merits of those two things as though they are two different worlds. The UK policy in one sense provides the best of both worlds, because what we have done is provided the funding for gold open access, where people choose to publish their material immediately, and publishers are willing to do that. At the same time, as the Minister has said, we have listened to what publishers are saying and under those circumstances where the funding is not available we are allowing longer embargo periods than anybody else. We have the best policy in the world, from that point of view.
Q132 Mr Binley: That is not what Alma Swan is saying. She is saying that this is reflecting badly on us in the global situation. Will you at least look at that and come back to us? If that is the case, it is not the reaction you would want, Minister, is it?
Mr Willetts: We certainly will look into this, but perhaps there is another way into this. This is the discussion I had with some other countries. There are some other countries that are saying, "Why have you got options like green open access for 24 months? Everything should just be green after six months.’ This goes back to the underlying issue: whether you think that the process of collating data for revealing data behind your research project, putting the material into a publishing form and communicating it adds value. I believe it does and somehow that service has to be paid for. My view is that these seductive models where everything is green open access after six months do not answer the challenge of how you have a viable, long-term academic publishing industry. They have to be able to earn back something. In the disciplines where the half-life of an article is long, which tends to be more in the humanities and social sciences, we accept, if there is not a gold payment available, that they should be able to have their piece of work behind a paywall for up to 24 months. That is to deliver commercial viability.
Q133 Mr Binley: Can I then finally ask in this respect? This is new policy, you are introducing it and it will have undesired effects that even you, Minister, have not been able to think through, and I recognise your great knowledge in this area. Will you please look at this? Because we do need to have an idea of timetable; we do need to have an idea of impact. Those two compete against each other, so what will your timetable be and what might you do to stop a practice developing that you and I would think undesirable?
Mr Willetts: First, this is a big change going on in the industry. You are absolutely right that we need to monitor it and we will undertake to do so. As I said, I will be having a review meeting with Janet Finch and other experts in the autumn. If it would help this Committee, I would very happily write back to this Committee with a report after that meeting has happened. No policy is perfect, and then we will be able to see where the shoe is pinching.
Q134 Mr Binley: That would be excellent and we would welcome that. I wonder if, in the meantime, Mr Egginton would talk to Alma Swan and see where the reality lies in this respect. If you could tell us you have done that, we would be grateful for that, too.
Ron Egginton: I am very happy to do that.
Q135 Chair: Can I just pick up one issue? Recently a large commercial publisher has amended its online system, so that when a UK author’s paper is accepted, the author is asked if he or, presumably, she is funded by a UK Research Council. If that person says yes, the author is directed to pay a fee for gold open access. We have evidence: a senior academic wrote on his blog, "The publisher was deliberately and disgracefully misleading the author about the RCUK policy on open access in order to take money from them" because "there is no requirement for researchers to pay for gold open access in such a case". He says, "Sharp practice is too polite a phrase to describe the actions of this publisher". Can you comment on this and convince us that this will not take place in the future?
Mr Willetts: Publishers are entitled-the logic of gold is that there are costs to publication. Sorry, let me try it the other way. There are open access journals where people just turn up and publish their material, and there is no charge anywhere: the author does not have to pay for publication and the reader does not have to pay to read it. That is part of the academic ecosystem now. What you do not get then is the editorial function, the quality control and necessarily the deposit of the data. If I may say so, for us as politicians, it is like the flow of political gossip across the web as against reading something that has above it "the BBC", "The Daily Telegraph" or someone where there has been an editorial function that has told us that this is significant, and that someone who we may or may not trust has checked this out.
There is a kind of analogy with academic publishing. Of course, an academic could just go to a place where it is all just put up online, but then you have not necessarily had the peer review; you have not necessarily had a sub-editor who has licked the thing into publishable form; and you have not necessarily had someone who has gone through the data behind it to put it in the form that can be accessed, as we were discussing earlier. These are genuinely added-value functions. Open access recognises that we should pay for those. I do not know the case of this individual. If it is a pure open access journal and everything is just free everywhere, that is fine. In that case, though, you have an online repository; you have not got an editorial function.
Q136 Chair: I am not sure if your response adequately covers the particular case in point, but I think probably the best thing for us to do is to put details of it in writing to you and ask for a more detailed response.
Mr Willetts: Yes, we will check it out.
Q137 Ann McKechin: We have discussed transparency in terms of the negotiation between libraries and publishers. It became clear that there was evidence of commercial publishers regularly using non-disclosure clauses in relation to pricing of contracts with libraries. Frankly, that erodes the ability of libraries to understand what the real price is in the market and to assist them in driving down the real cost to them. Do you consider that it is acceptable for such non-transparency clauses to be a regular feature in our university sector?
Mr Willetts: Mr Egginton may like to comment. We do not believe that they are illegal. We are not aware of any legal obligation on them to disclose this information. I fully understand that they can leave a nasty taste in the mouth, and that people do not like them. There are some attempts, led by JISC Collections, which Mr Egginton might like to comment on, to provide a national initiative for licensing. As we understand it, though, we do not have a legal power to stop them doing non-disclosure.
Ron Egginton: NESLi2 is a scheme or a process that JISC Collections goes through to negotiate with publishers on their offerings of largely bundled journals to various universities. They do this with the larger publishers on behalf of many institutions in the UK. Through that negotiation process, they do secure some savings to the libraries concerned. However, as the Minister said, non-disclosure clauses are not illegal and, therefore, it is a natural process that some commercial organisations may go through.
Q138 Ann McKechin: Where do you think the clauses came from? Which side of the negotiation do you think non-transparency clauses came from?
Ron Egginton: I presume they came from the publishers’ side.
Q139 Ann McKechin: Exactly, they came from the publishers. There was a suggestion in oral evidence from Reed Elsevier that libraries prefer it. They said that libraries give it. We have this issue where a small number of large companies who set non-transparency clauses. It is hardly a good thing, is it?
Ron Egginton: That is another reason why the policy that is now being pursued is going in the direction of changing the nature of the market in that regard. At the moment we have a market that is essentially complementary goods, which are bundled packages of journals being offered. Therefore, there is perhaps less competition in terms of how that offering is made. Whereas, once you move to the gold open access and the choice by the researcher of which journal they want that paper published in you move to a market of substitute goods, which has greater competition. There is a very good paper on this by a chap called Shieber that explains how this process is likely to take effect.
Q140 Ann McKechin: So you would anticipate that, five or 10 years on, the real price universities are paying should actually have decreased?
Ron Egginton: The real price should have decreased for a number or reasons. That is partly because of the increased competition in the process and partly because of the innovation and diversity of suppliers in the market. There are organisations out there. Again, it comes down to what researchers and what academics choose to do. The choice is theirs as to where they spend their cash and where they want their article published. If they so chose, they could now go out and choose in one particular case publication through a mechanism that costs $200 that will publish every paper they produce for the rest of their life at no further cost on a gold open access basis.
Of course, you heard in your previous inquiry from people like PLOS as to how their rates compare competitively to others. The Government has created a set of circumstances in which the market becomes much more fluid and everything is to play for. It is then a question of how the various competing forces result in an outcome. The direction of travel is clear though. The direction of travel is based upon the principle that publicly funded research that is published should be available for free to the public immediately.
Q141 Ann McKechin: And that people would actually know the cost that is paid for it, because in terms of gold access people would know the actual fee paid per article. This is the issue: that currently, under the old system of bundling, people are unclear what relative costs are paid from one university to the next. Accordingly, by its nature it has the appearance of being anti-competitive. There has been a previous referral to the Competition Commission. Your aim is that we reach a position where there is transparency, so would you agree with me that the day of having non-transparency clauses should not be with us five years from now, because there should be no need? If we are having open access as the norm, there should be no need for non-transparency clauses.
Ron Egginton: In response to where we are at the moment in the marketplace, you have to recognise the circumstances that pertain at the present time. Those circumstances that pertain at the present time are determined by the structure of the way the market works at the moment and the way companies respond to that. However, the changes being brought in will cause different behaviours and different requirements to be met. I do not think we are in the position where we can simply say that there needs to be a complete end to non-disclosure clauses now. It is something that is frowned upon perhaps and something that would be more conducive to the libraries and researchers if they could see evidence of what other people were paying for the same material. Undoubtedly they would prefer that to be the case and we would certainly encourage all publishers to be as open as possible, but we cannot step in and regulate something where there is no legal basis to do so.
Q142 Ann McKechin: I am trying to get to the Government’s indication of where they would like the industry to act in the future if we are moving to a system that is more transparent, more open and allows greater competition. Nontransparency clauses by their nature tend to be a way of trying to hold on to your business.
Ron Egginton: The Minister has already explained that we are concerned with this at the macro level, in terms of changing the way in which the whole market and the industry operates, from the principle of open access to publicly funded research. Gold open access, for all the reasons that the Minister stated, provides the best means to get to the solution that you and everybody else is seeking in a reasonable timescale.
Q143 Nadhim Zahawi: Last month RCUK revised its open access guidance and removed a statement that institutions and authors should ensure that a "proper market in article fees" operates. Do you think we should have an effective and functional market in articleprocessing charges?
Mr Willetts: Yes, I do. The price is quite a complicated and intricate thing, because, for example, if you are a highly selective journal it is partly all the articles that are submitted and handled but are not eventually published. Yes, I think there will be a range of costs and prices that people will face.
Q144 Nadhim Zahawi: Who do you think is responsible for achieving this?
Mr Willetts: Governments can help create a market and, as you have just heard from Mr Egginton, I think we have gone further than any other advanced Western country in trying to get such a market going, not least through this budget that is available for gold open access. Of course, if you are sitting in a university department you are thinking, "How many articles can I pay for publication out of my publication budget?" You have an incentive to negotiate down the articleprocessing charge.
Q145 Ann McKechin: We heard that some of the profit ratios of the commercial publishers were over 30%. When we have looked at the issue of the average articleprocessing charges they are considerably higher than those offered by open access publishers. You said recently, in a Guardian article on 9 April, that we cannot "afford to harm our world-class publishing industry". At what cost?
Mr Willetts: I believe that competition will drive down these prices, and I also think technical innovation will bring down these prices. However, there are issues like articles that are submitted and not published, and the process of assessing and perhaps rejecting them itself comes with a cost. There are some higher costs associated with publishing. I have to say there is no right approach, but sometimes I get exactly the opposite line of argument. In fact, I tend to get more of the opposite line of argument, which is that our great learned societies all have academic journals, and the academic journals are an important source of income for the learned societies. We are riding so rapidly towards this open, competitive future that the income that our learned societies get from publishing their academic journals is going to fall, and our learned societies are in jeopardy.
By and large, the criticism I get is the opposite one from yours, which is that publishers are going to carry on enjoying large profits. We will see. This is exactly the kind of area where nobody can be sure. We are moving to a more open world; we are trying to shape a market; there are limits to what Governments can do. That is why I am absolutely up for reporting back to this Committee whatever way you suggest so we can see what is happening, but I personally would expect to see prices being competed down.
Q146 Mr Binley: Just for the record, can I seek your views on the fact that corporate companies have a whole range of publishing sectors and publishing interests? It is very difficult to rate an overall profitability level of a given company to a particular sector of the work they are involved with. We have to be very careful about making those sorts of conclusions from that sort of information when it is not refined enough to be of value. Is that a fair comment?
Mr Willetts: It is a fair comment. Look at the music industry. It is not a perfect analogy, but technical change presents massive challenges for the music industry. If you are sitting as a publisher you are thinking, "Previously we used to be able to sell our IP because you needed to buy a physical copy of what we were doing. What is the future? Are we going through our Napster moment?"
We are trying to help the industry move to a completely different technology, where a lot of publicly funded research will not be behind any kind of paywall, and where I think there will increasingly be automatic ranking systems when the stuff is available online. Soon some agencies will be saying, "These are the top 10 new physics papers over the last month", and so some functions that are currently done through peer review may themselves be done through automatic ranking. We are just embarking on this route, but I have to say that I think by and large people look to the UK as a country that has got further in thinking about these issues and creating an environment where this will all happen than almost anywhere else.
Q147 Mr Walker: We have heard quite a lot of evidence that mandating immediate deposit in repositories is a good way of making sure transaction costs are manageable during the changeover to open access, and also could help provide flexibility where different disciplines are moving at different speeds towards open access. What can the Government do to make sure that we have the repository infrastructure that we need to make that possible?
Mr Willetts: That is a challenge. In fact, it is one of the areas that Janet Finch touched on but I fully accept we need to do more work on. I am now chairing a Research Sector Transparency Board, which is trying to tackle this issue. It is one where we need to do more work. Again, we have the potential to be a world leader; I do not think anybody else has yet sorted it. Having these types of repositories is very important. It partly involves a new form of librarianship: curating data. Curating data in the electronic world is a new and important set of skills, and I get arguments that we need more people to emerge with that kind of training. There is more to be done, though; it is a challenge.
Q148 Mr Walker: Do you want to expand on that at all?
Ron Egginton: Yes, and I am picking up on what the Minister has just said. You are quite right to flag up repositories as being something to be thought about. There is a great deal going on in terms of repositories. There are hundreds of repositories around the UK; there are probably thousands of repositories around the world. There are organisations like COAR-the Confederation of Open Access Repositories-which is looking at this from an international perspective. In the UK, some of our Research Councils have repositories: the ESRC has the Research Catalogue, which is its own repository, NERC has a repository and DFID, which is very much following on as part of the Government’s lead on open access, has its own open access repository, D4D.
The issue is not whether we can have any repositories, but, as you are suggesting, how you enable them to all talk together. These international bodies, such as COAR and others, are actually addressing the question of how they ensure that the way in which data is stored and the tools that are available allow that sort of interaction and intercommunication. That is something that is happening at such a rate in terms of the change that is taking place-as the Minister said, the way the technology is moving on-that it is almost a question of allowing that process to continue and just ensuring that those considerations are being taken into account. In their recent consultation exercise on open access, HEFCE has made it quite clear that repositories will form part of their thinking going forward as well. Nobody is suggesting for one moment that there is a world of repositories on one side and there is a world of open access and journals somewhere else. The two things are inextricably linked.
Q149 Mr Walker: Do you accept the premise that repositories can help reduce the transition costs to open access?
Ron Egginton: Yes, they do. They can do, and they are used already by many researchers to deposit their papers in various forms. Again, going back to the gold open access versus green open access issue, one of the reasons why there is a strong preference by the Research Councils and Government for gold open access is because you are then dealing with a known quantity in terms of the paper you are referring to or that you are looking at. It has been through peer review, it has been through all those assessments that the publishers make, and it is a finished product. When you go to a repository it is not absolutely clear as to what version of the paper you are looking at: is it a paper that has been subject to peer review? Is it post-peer review? Is it different from what is in the publisher’s journal? Therefore, the authority of some of those papers is not necessarily the same as what is available on gold open access.
Q150 Mr Walker: I understand that, but we have had some evidence that the cost is a serious issue. Professor Andrew Massey, who is the Head of Politics at the University of Exeter and is running a department of 35 people, said to us that the funding that he gets from RCUK would be enough to basically fund the articleprocessing charge on one piece of research. Therefore, he had a choice between giving a fiver to each person in his department, which would not go nearly far enough to cover any research costs, or choosing one research between all of them. Do you not think that this shows there is a real question of affordability when it comes to article-processing charges?
Mr Willetts: You mentioned the University of Exeter. The University of Nottingham has operated a publication fund for a while and ended up estimating it pays £1,250 per article, which is a bit less. The underlying point here that comes up from time to time is that the University of Exeter runs on a budget of several hundred million pounds. Part of what Exeter does is attract academics who wish to publish research findings. It is reasonable to say that part of the academic and research mission of Exeter is to ensure that good quality research is funded. This argument that I get a bit presents a picture of the relationship between academics and university management that I do not recognise.
Exeter is your example, not mine, but if you were in a situation where there was a university where people knew if you go to their politics department they will not publish you and they will only publish one thing, the ability of the University of Exeter to maintain a high quality, researchactive politics department would decline pretty dramatically, I would have thought. My view is this is just being open that communication of research funds is part of what academics do. It is like saying the University will not have any travel grants or whatever. This is just part of how you do the job. Again, we will monitor it, but I think in reality it would be a very odd world in which universities thought it was rational not to pay for their academics’ work to be published.
Ron Egginton: I just wanted to add one further point in relation to that question, if I may. There is something now called the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which is actually putting the emphasis on the way in which individual papers are viewed, cited and so on, rather than the weighting that is given to a particular journal. Again, that is another move in the same sort of direction. Once you then get to the point where the judgment being made by fellow academics and by others is on how that particular paper is viewed, rather than how the journal in which it is published is viewed, that will again exert further pressure for change in the marketplace.
Q151 Chair: Just before we move on, why do you think RCUK has moved away from its initial commitment to gold open access in its revisions? Could these issues that we have just outlined be reason for it?
Mr Willetts: I have obviously had discussions with RCUK. We have ended up in a shared position around that decision tree set by the Publishers Association. There was a time when they were looking at a shorter maximum embargo period under green, and I think there was a concern expressed, particularly by the humanities and social sciences, that that would be too short. I think we have ended up in an agreed position. The Research Councils can speak for themselves, but we now have a good balance between a funded gold model, which is not sufficiently funded to pay for everything, and a credible green model that recognises that you need, behind a paywall, to have sufficient time to earn back some of the costs of publishing.
Q152 Chair: Can we just move on to the very arcane area of licensing. The mandating of Creative Commons Attribution Only licences has caused considerable consternation amongst the academic community. They fear that the author’s rights will be compromised. If the Government’s priority is to ensure free online access to peer-reviewed research, should this decision not be left to the authors?
Mr Willetts: I am going to turn to Mr Egginton on this, but this is all consistent with what we have set out in our response to Hargreaves and elsewhere. There is actually a big prize behind this that, as part of gold access, we want the data behind your research to be available. I realise that in the humanities there are sometimes complicated issues around copyright and suchlike, and there are different forms of CC, but CC-BY is our judgment about the best way of ensuring access to the research behind it. Is there anything you want to add to that, Ron?
Ron Egginton: I think that is absolutely right, Minister, in the sense that the CC-BY licence is the one that the Research Councils require academics to use if they are paying an article-processing charge. That is exactly the same policy that is being adopted by the Wellcome Trust as well. They also require any research that is being funded by them and being published on a gold open access basis to be on a CC-BY basis. Some publishers are actually already putting a clarification on their websites that if you have been funded by Research Councils or the Wellcome Trust then the licence that applies to you in payment of an article-processing charge is a CC-BY licence. Others are giving people options. It is not quite clear that those options should apply. In fact they should not apply if the funding has come from the Research Councils or the Wellcome Trust, since, from 1 April, if an articleprocessing charge is paid you are required to publish on a CC-BY basis.
Mr Willetts: I will happily come back to the Committee. As I understand the sensitivity, what has been put to me is if, for example, your article of literary criticism includes a long extract from a poem, and the poem is a copyright possession of someone else, on what basis can you have this extract from the poem available for everyone else within the underlying repository? That has been raised with us. As I say, the Research Councils are aware of this and they think that they can reach a sensible way forward on this third party material issue. This is exactly the type of wrinkle or implementation question that we and the Research Councils are open-minded on.
Q153 Chair: That goes some way to what I was going to come back on. You have explained the situation as it is; what I do not really understand is the rationale for taking the position that they are, as opposed to the one that the academic community would prefer.
Mr Willetts: The rationale is absolutely clear, and I think there is a significant amount of academic support for our approach. It goes right back to my earlier cancer research example. Part of what we are paying for is the underlying data to be available. That is a really important principle that is very strongly supported by many people in the academic community.
Q154 Chair: Can I just move on to VAT on e-journals? It would appear that it is somewhat illogical to have VAT on e-journals when there is not on other publications. Given the Government’s commitment to open access, should this not be reconsidered?
Mr Willetts: I have a piece of text prepared for me by the Treasury.
Chair: I thought it might be.
Mr Willetts: It begins: "VAT is a matter for the Chancellor", and carries on-I feel like a hostage reading out a text for the video. Actually, to be fair to the Treasury, the point is that, as I understand it-and I am sorry, this is a Treasury matter-there is no scope within the existing EU VAT legislation to introduce a zero or reduced rate for e-books or ejournals. The UK has a number of zero rates, which are exemptions that the Government is committed to retaining. Reopening the debate on rates with other Member States would be most unlikely to succeed and sets a precedent for changing the VAT rates for a whole range of other products.
This is the only Janet Finch recommendation that we have not pursued and the Treasury has very good arguments for not wishing to open up a VAT exemption issue.
Q155 Chair: I do feel perhaps we should have a Treasury Minister here to explain that. Just as you anticipated our question on this issue, we anticipated your response. Could I now ask you what representations have you made to the Treasury on this?
Mr Willetts: I have had this conversation or some kind of exchange-I think David Gauke is the relevant Minister. As I said, I actually think that this is their responsibility and BIS did consult HMT on the feasibility of VAT reduction or exemption. It is not permitted under current EU VAT rules and we would have to have a specific negotiation with the EU on VAT exemptions. I think the Treasury’s wariness about this is very understandable.
Q156 Chair: I think I would like to see the detailed explanation of why this is not so. Is it possible to get it, so that we can examine it?
Mr Willetts: Yes, we will liaise with the Treasury and I will happily send perhaps a joint note from us or the Treasury-whichever way-on this particular point explaining their position. I am happy to do that.
Q157 Chair: Thank you, Minister, and Mr Egginton. Just before you go, Minister, can I remind you that your party ran a slogan, "Vote blue, go green"? Can I take it now that that slogan has changed to "Vote blue, go gold"?
Mr Willetts: Yes, excellent. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Hear, hear.
Chair: Thank you.