Britain needs to recognize a fundamental cultural shift in how research is being published and disseminated, and should embrace and help accelerate the transition to the open-access publishing of research results, says a government-commissioned report published on Tuesday. The report, “Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Access to Research Publications,” makes a series of recommendations for achieving “better, faster access to research publications for anyone who wants to read or use them.”

Last month David Willetts, Britain’s minister for universities and science, announced that the government would push to make publicly financed research freely available, but few details had been offered until now.

The report notes that, for many people outside of higher education and large research-intensive companies, the only way to read the publications in which most publicly financed research appears is to pay up to £20, or more than $30, to read a single article. The report then makes a series of recommendations for how to speed the shift to open-access publishing.

The report acknowledges that the transition “will be complex” because “no single channel can on its own maximize access to research publications for the greatest number of people.” The shift will also require additional spending, of up to £60-million, or more than $90-million, a year by the higher-education sector, the report estimates. It also says that the public agencies that finance research should “establish more effective and flexible arrangements to meet the costs of publishing in open-access and hybrid journals.”

The main additional cost will be from publishing in open-access journals, most of which require authors to pay an article-processing or publishing charge, and then to provide access to readers free of charge, with few restrictions on use. As the shift to open-access publishing accelerates, the report predicts that universities and other organizations will be able to significantly reduce the amount of money they spend on subscriptions, even as the costs of publishing in open-access journals increases.


The report’s main recommendation is that “a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open-access or hybrid journals as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded.”

The government-supported organization that oversees how universities in England receive public money is considering requiring that all publicly financed research be included in open-access publications, starting in 2014. The European Union is expected to make a similar move in its $100-billion Horizon 2020 research program, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

Reed Elsevier, a global publishing giant that has been the target of a boycott by more than 8,800 scholars who say it charges “exorbitantly high prices” for its journals, welcomed the report’s recommendations in a statement, saying they “identify real opportunities, as well as risks, and how they are implemented will be key in ensuring sustainable models for scholarly communications.”