The Wellcome Trust is to enforce its open access policy and withhold funding from scientists who do not make the results of their research freely available to the public.
The Trust requires funded researchers to make results available for free through the UK PubMed Central repository within six months of initial publication. Despite this requirement being in place since 2006, only 55% of papers comply.
With immediate effect, any researcher not complying with this policy will see their final grant payment withheld, and could lose out on future funding.
“We are firmly committed to ensuring that research publications that result from our funding are made freely available to all,” said Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust and government’s chief scientific officer from April 2013. “Despite our open access policy having been in place for over five years, still almost half of these publications remain restricted behind subscription paywalls. This is simply unacceptable and so with immediate effect we will be tightening up enforcement of our policy.”
In a letter to university vice-chancellors and directors of major overseas programmes, Walport has outlined steps that the Trust will be taking.
Firstly, institutions will be required to provide assurances that all papers associated with a grant comply with the policy when final grant reports are submitted. If they are unable to do this the final payment – typically 10% of the overall grant – will be withheld.
“That’s an incentive for the institution to put pressure on the principal investigators that all the papers that came out of the grant are open access,” said Robert Kiley, head of digital services at the Wellcome Trust.
Secondly, non-compliant papers will be discounted from the researcher’s track record when renewing an existing grant, or new grant application. Lastly, researchers will be required to ensure that all publications associated with their Wellcome-funded research are compliant with the Trust’s policy before any funding renewals or new grants are activated.
“It’s all about changing behaviour,” said Killey. “Getting researchers to accept that, if they’re going to take Wellcome Trust money, then open access is not just an option, it’s a requirement.”
This policy applies to articles published from 1st October 2009, and from early 2013, the Trust – which spends more than £600m on science a year – will require that when it pays an open access fee, a paper is made freely available for all types of reuse subject to appropriate acknowledgement.
This move strengthens the argument for open access, which has seen over 9,000 researchers sign up to boycott journals that restrict free sharing. They believe that results from public and charity-funded scientific research should be released from behind the paywalls of academic publishers, and free to read for those who funded it.
Many supporters advocate the ‘gold’ model of open access where researchers would pay an upfront fee to a journal for their paper to be made available online for free as soon as it has been published. The recently-released Finch report suggests that open access is the future of academic publishing and although making all UK publically funded research free for everyone could cost £60m a year, this short-term transition cost will reduce over time.
“The UK should recognise this change, should embrace it and should find ways of managing it in a measured way,” said Dame Janet Finch, who drew up the report.