Scientific papers are to be available free online to the public in a Government-backed project to open up knowledge at the expense of Britain's academic publishers. In an experiment aimed at making the UK a world leader in technological innovation, the Coalition plans to stop publicly funded research going behind the paywalls of journals.
Detailed proposals will be announced tomorrow. Many academics, 11,000 of whom are boycotting the world's biggest publisher, Reed Elsevier, in protest at its fees, support a shake-up of academic publishing. But publishing insiders warn privately that it will hit a growing UK business and allow the rest of the world free access to British research.
British publishers produce 20 per cent of the world's academic papers. They include not just Reed Elsevier but the Oxford University Press and institutions such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, which generates three-quarters of its income from its journals.
Universities could face estimated bills of £50m a year to meet the costs of editing now borne by publishers, though they may save money in the long run if the price of journals comes down. The Coalition appears determined to revolutionise scientific publishing in a bid to boost creativity and enterprise. In a speech to the Publishers Association in May, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, said the public had the right to view research it had funded. "They should not be kept outside with their noses pressed to the window," he said.
Google, the world's main internet search engine, stands to gain from free access to hundreds of thousands of papers. Steve Hilton, David Cameron's ex-director of strategy, is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior vice president of public policy.
Rohan Silva, senior policy adviser in the Prime Minister's Policy Unit, admires the success of Google.
Professor Dame Janet Finch, a professor of sociology at Manchester University, has been heading the panel looking at open access.
Her plans are expected to encompass placing all publicly funded research free online immediately, with another option whereby academics receiving public funding would have to ensure papers in traditional journals are placed free online in a year.
A spokesperson for The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The Government is keen to see a new approach. The challenge is how we get there without ruining the value added by academic publishers."
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