Research matters: Students will reap the benefits of new thinking on access to valuable research materials

 

Open Access has dominated the research news across the summer, but if you're starting out on a research career and have yet to publish journal articles, it may be hard to figure out what the fuss is about. However, it is important and will affect you as your research career develops.

A recent study by the British Library and JISC, Researchers of Tomorrow, tracked the research habits of "Generation Y" researchers, a cohort of doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994. It found that these early career researchers consistently ranked access to research resources, such as journal articles, as a barrier to the progress of their research. Only time constraints ranked as a bigger obstacle. With a generation of researchers emerging that are relying more heavily on web-based ways of accessing research material, it's important to ensure that they can fully access the research. The Researchers of Tomorrow study found that these bright young people had to rely overmuch on abstracts rather than the full findings.

Access to the outputs of the research that we fund has always been something that the Research Councils have taken seriously. As the majority of our funding comes via the public purse it seems only right that it should be easy to access the findings from that research. Meanwhile, ensuring that there is ready access to research findings will help develop science and research itself. In 2005, individual Research Councils launched their Open Access policies. But the Open Access agenda has moved on rapidly in the intervening years which is why, in July, we launched a new Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy on Access to Research Inputs.

Gone are the seven individual Council policies as the new RCUK policy harmonises and makes significant changes to its overall policy. This has at its heart the drive to make the research that we fund open to access as soon as it's published. However, because we recognise that this option - the so-called pay-to-publish "gold" model of Open Access - is not always available, we've retained a mixed model for the time being. This means that if there is not a to pay-to-publish option, researchers can opt for the "green" model of open access where the paper would be available via a repository after an embargo period. This embargo allows publishers and learned societies to maintain their current operations for an agreed period without de-stabilising their service.

One of the key drivers for making published journal articles freely available through open access mechanisms is the potential it offers to the research community (and beyond) to mash, mine and mix information and knowledge. By ensuring that there is immediate access, we can help ensure that we maximise the opportunities for further research and innovation.

By changing our policy we are hoping to stimulate change, but change that is sustainable. It must make sure that the public, business and other researchers can have quick access without the need for a subscription or charge to read the exciting and often groundbreaking research that we fund. The UK is currently leading the world on Open Access and discussions that we are having with international funders of research suggest that there's considerable interest in pursuing similar policies. Hopefully the next Generation to "Y" will report in years to come that accessing research is no longer such a barrier to achievement and during your research career you will have access to the research you need, when you need it.

For more information about the RCUK Open Access policy see: bit.ly/RCUKpolicy

More on the British Library and JISC study Researchers of Tomorrow is at: bit.ly/ResearchTomorrow

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