It’s the ‘vibe’ of it: The complexity of open access policies in Australia

Guest post by Dr Danny Kingsley, Visiting Fellow, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science

By now, most people in the academic space have heard of the term ‘open access’, even if understanding of what the term means and levels of engagement or enthusiasm vary. We are a group that is undertaking what we thought would be a straightforward study – an analysis of open access policies in universities in Australia.

As far as we can tell, this has not been done to date, so this work would be a ‘line in the sand’, not unlike a 2009 study looking at the ‘state of the nation’ of Australian institutional repositories, undertaken by two of the current research team.

We will be writing the work up in a paper to be published this year, but given we are presenting some of the initial findings at the 2021 Research Support Community Day (RSCD) we thought giving an illustration of what we have found might be helpful.

Identifying policies

It turned out there were multiple decisions we needed to make before we could start. Some of these seem self-explanatory, but need addressing, for example: What do we mean when we say ‘open access policy’? This is more difficult than it seems at first blush. We ended up deciding for it to be considered an open access policy it needed to meet three criteria:

  • It must be called an ‘open access policy’
  • It must sit either in the policy library or on a central university site (not a departmental or library page)
  • It must ‘look like’ a policy – that is, it includes features such as identifying the responsibilities of different stakeholders, has a revision date, authorisation and ownership is identified and other related policies are identified.

We used the government’s Study in Australia webpage to identify 41 universities for the study. We initially looked at the list on the Australasian Open Access Strategy website, and consulted the Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP). This identified 20 open access policies. 

For each university where we had not identified a specific open access policy, the university website was searched for ‘policy’ to reach the policy library. These were then analysed by opening any policy that might be related to the subject of open access including policies with ‘Academic Integrity’, ‘Research Integrity’, ‘Authorship’, ‘Publication’ and ‘Peer Review’. If the policy library also listed Procedures and Guidelines these were also searched. Where institutions did not appear to have any Policies, Procedures or Guidelines that referred to Open Access, the university website was searched with the term ‘Open Access’ to identify any other guidelines or references. 

In the case of eight universities (19.5%) there is no mention of open access in any Policy, Procedure or Guideline.

Analysing policies

Any taxonomy is not perfect, and there were multiple discussions about whether we should include the policies that mention open access in our final analysis and paper. But for the purposes of the RSCD presentation we decided to concentrate on the 20 identified ‘open access policies’.

We have identified some early conclusions (spoiler alert) not least, the landscape is complex and confusing. The process we have undertaken to even identify the 20 policies we are analysing are an indicator of this. Our talk will discuss some of the ways we are looking at the policies in our analysis, but it is a short talk about a big topic. 

Delving into just one aspect of the analysis here will illustrate the complexity of the job we have undertaken.  Let’s consider the question of paying for publication. What do the policies say on this question? Well in the case of 11 of the 20 policies, nothing.

In the nine policies that mention paying for publication, we have broken down what they have stated. In some cases, the absence of a statement doesn’t mean the endorsement of the position. That’s confusing, we know, but we will try and explain.

Is hybrid allowed?

Let’s look at the question of whether the policy mentions the support of hybrid article processing charges (APCs). This is relevant because hybrid APCs are charged by subscription journals to make a particular article openly accessible. This has led to the accusation of double dipping by publishers. A 2016 analysis of requirements of funders, US and UK university funds, “Who’s paying for hybrid” looked at this question, where there was a wide variety in the way the expectations around hybrid was expressed. Given the Australian investment has been historically into green open access (putting a copy of the work into repository), the assumption could be made that hybrid would be at odds with this strategy in Australia. But the variation in the UK and US policies was reflected in our current analysis.

Some of the policies are quite clear. James Cook University says “Hybrid Open Access publication is not supported by this policy.” The University of Adelaide states: “The University recommends that researchers should avoid paying APCs to publish in Hybrid Journals”, and UNSW says: “UNSW discourages authors from paying Article Processing Charge (APC) fees to make outputs open access in an otherwise subscription-based (hybrid) outlet (sometimes called publisher double-dipping).

The Australian National University states it does not support hybrid, but the use of the word ‘or’ in the policy means it could be interpreted to say it does not support the payment of *any* article processing charges: “The University does not support the payment of article processing fees (APCs) or ‘hybrid’ fees (where an individual article is made available through payment of an article processing fee)”.

Neither Bond University or University of Wollongong mention hybrid at all, but have opposing positions on paying for publication. Bond makes no restrictions or suggestions on paying for publication: “Use of external grant funding or discretionary University, Faculty, or Research Centre funding may be provided to cover the publishing costs i.e. Article Processing Charges, of accepted open access publications”

Wollongong on the other hand states: “The University maintains a position to not pay for the publishing of online research where possible.” But goes on to say: “Gold Open Access may be supported and funded at the faculty level where strategically or otherwise appropriate.” It does state: “The University supports a Green approach to Open Access” which could possibly be interpreted as being anti-hybrid, but it is not specific.

There are *implied* sanctions on hybrid in several policies that refer to ‘Gold Open Access Journals’. For example Charles Darwin University uses the expression: “In a journal that is deemed to be Gold Open Access”. Central Queensland University says: “the publishing outlet is considered to be Gold Open Access” and the University of New England suggests researchers should seek funding: “if wishing to publish in an open-access journal”.

The wider view

Right, so that’s the analysis of *one aspect* of *one analysis point* of these policies. Other questions of this paying for publication language are whether university or departmental funds are provided, whether they have caveats if so, whether there is an assessment made of the publishing outlet before funds are released and so on. 

A visual representation of what the analysis of this one aspect has thrown up is below. 

We are working on the many other analysis points of the policies now – there’s a lot to do. Watch this space! 

* Research group (alphabetically listed)

Dr Hamid R. Jamali, Associate Professor, Charles Sturt University

Dr Mary Anne Kennan, Adjunct Associate Professor, Charles Sturt University

Dr Danny Kingsley, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

Dr Maryam Sarrafzadeh, Assistant Professor, University of Tehran

Dr Simon Wakeling, Lecturer, Charles Sturt University


POSTSCRIPT: Some readers, particularly younger, or non-Australian ones may not understand the reference in the title. It comes from a scene in the iconic 1997 Australian film “The Castle”. Many of the expressions from the film have become part of the Australian lexicon.

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