Open Access and REF: What do they mean for us?

Her RSC2014 presentation on publishing in peer-reviewed journals was so popular people were literally sitting in the aisles! In this feature, the Editor of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Laura Tunbridge (University of Manchester), expands on her talk to cover Open Access and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and their implications for us as postgraduate or early career researchers.


Open Access: the green and gold schemes

Since spring 2013, British Research Councils, including the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), have required researchers to make their publications available via what is commonly referred to as open access (OA).[ref]The Research Councils were responding to the findings of the National Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (aka the ‘Finch Group’), published in June 2012 as ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’.[/ref] As has long been the case in the sciences, the principle is that the results of publicly-funded research should be available to all. The problem, of course, is how to fund the scheme, particularly in the humanities, where grants are much less substantial than in the sciences.

There are two types of open access publishing: green and gold.

Green OA: the author deposits articles accepted for publication in an online repository, often institutional repositories managed by research institutes and HEIs. You may already have encountered this possibility on submitting your PhD.[ref]Many institutions that now require electronic copies of doctoral dissertations to be submitted will ask if they should be made open access. There have been many debates about whether this reduces the likelihood of academic presses considering PhDs for publication (the American Historical Association recently advocated that PhD students should request an embargo of up to six years); most editors I’ve spoken to point out that they would very rarely accept a PhD as a final book manuscript.[/ref] Publishers often impose an embargo on the release of such materials (usually 6-12 months).

Gold OA: published material is made available immediately by the journal publisher in return for an article processing charge (APC). Where an APC is paid to make an article openly available immediately the article must be published under a CCBY licence.

The other terms you’ll see associated with open access are to do with Creative Commons (CC) licenses. These allow authors to grant the right to share, use and build on their work according to certain conditions. They include:

CCBY – attribution (the one you’ll see most frequently in humanities academic publishing) allows for the copying, distribution, display and performance of the work, and derivative works, if the author or licensor is credited in a specific manner.

CCNC – non-commercial allows for the copying, distribution, display and performance of the work and for derivative works based on it, for non-commercial purposes.

CCND – non-derivative allows for copying, distribution, display and performance of verbatim copies of the work; it does not allow for derivative works.

There are ongoing discussions about extending open access principles to the publication of academic monographs and book chapters.

What does open access mean for authors (particularly for postgraduate students and early career researchers)?

Given that only a small fraction of humanities research receives public funding, most authors in musical fields will not publish under the gold scheme. Those that do are likely to have received a large grant or possibly financial support from their institution or another funding body. In other words, the impact of open access publishing for PhD students or early career researchers is likely to be minimal: most will automatically go for the green route.

Where things become more complicated is in how open access publishing is factored into the next round of research assessment (REF 2020). Publicly-funded research will be gold access, presumably, so it will act as another sign of scholarly approval. It is highly likely that articles and conference proceedings published from c.2016 onwards will need to be available through at least the green open access route in order to qualify for REF inclusion.

The Scholarly Kitchen blog provides some useful critical perspectives on Open Access publishing (it primarily has an American focus).

What route has the JRMA taken and why?

JRMA is published by Taylor and Francis, which has adopted – like most UK-based academic publishers – a model of hybrid open access. This means that as well as providing green open access there is also a gold open access option. Authors are asked which route they would like to take while their article is going through the production process: if they choose gold open access, they then pay a fee (currently just shy of £3000).


The Research Excellence Framework (REF)

I should emphasise, again, that this is my take on the impact the REF can have on early career researchers and that it is by no means authoritative or definitive.

What does the REF mean for PhD students/ early career researchers?

Some form of assessment of HEI research activity has taken place roughly every five years since 1986. The last deadline for submissions was December 2013; the next is rumoured to be 2020. The requirements change with every round, so it is almost impossible to make predictions about how the next REF (whatever it will be called) will be run. It might be useful, though, for me to go over what was done in 2013. Each academic submitted for consideration (universities decide who is submitted) was asked for four ‘outputs’. These can include any form of publication, compositions and performances. The hierarchy between outputs is not spelt out. REF panels pledge to judge the quality of a submission irrespective of where it is published or how it is disseminated. But monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles, or premieres by an internationally-renowned ensemble broadcast on the radio, are assumed to be of higher standing than, say, contributions to conference proceedings or a local amateur performance.

In 2013, early career researchers were entitled to submit fewer than four outputs; allowance was also made for time off from full-time work (including maternity leave). Certain substantial outputs could also be double-weighted.

The REF definition of an early career (or ‘independent’) researcher is complex. It is said to be someone employed to undertake teaching or teaching and research at a higher education institution or other organisation in the UK or overseas, on at least a 0.2FTE contract. And/or that they undertook independent research as a leading principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant. The full definition is at the document here from paragraph 85 onwards.

For the 2013 REF submissions, if you became an independent researcher on or before 31 July 2009 there was no reduction in expected number of submissions: if you did so between 1 August and 31 July 2010 there was a reduction of 1 output; if you did so between 1 August and 31 July 2011 there was a reduction of 2 outputs; and if you did so on or after 1 August 2012 there was a reduction of 3 outputs – in other words, you needed to only submit one.

How will the REF contribute to a shift in the kind of research carried out in university music departments (especially given the significance attached to ‘impact’)?

I wish I had a crystal ball! The traditional lone researcher model will doubtless continue, though funding for collaborative projects seems to be expanding, and many funding bodies now require candidates to exhibit extra skills such as ‘leadership’ and, indeed, ‘impact’. Another thing the REF evaluates is a department’s ‘research environment’, which includes incomes from grants, memberships of committees, advisory positions for external bodies, fellowships or elected roles in learned societies, visiting positions at prestigious universities, journal editorships, keynotes and plenary addresses, prizes and awards. Obviously, many of these are positions or things accrued through the course of a career, rather than at its start.

A great deal of time has been spent trying to work out exactly how to define ‘impact’. In 2013, representative impact case studies were asked for. The research could have taken place at any time since 1993, but the evidence of impact should date from after 2008. It may include (among other things) operating as an advisor or consultant outside academia, receiving industrial or other non-public funding, licensing technology, or working with media organisations. The assumption is that performing arts subjects are well suited to demonstrating impact, because of the way they interact with the public through events and outreach projects. It will be interesting to see if that is reflected in the REF results.

If future employers might plan to submit our publications under Outputs, what does this mean for getting published? Should we be trying to publish in journals rather than books?

The odd thing about the assessment system – that in some ways works well for early career researchers – is that an article in a respected peer-reviewed journal can be considered alongside a monograph. That’s one reason why recent PhDs are increasingly encouraged to publish their work in journals.[ref]Another recent perspective on publishing is given by Alexandra Wilson and Joanne Cormack on the blog of the OBERTO research group at Oxford Brookes University. See also a previous blog post by Jeanice Brooks and Loren Diclaudio at Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group: How to Get Published: A Beginner’s Guide.[/ref] Another reason is that readership for journals can be larger and more varied than for a monograph, which tends to appeal to a specialist readership. In other words, journal articles can be useful ‘trailers’ for a forthcoming monograph as well as establishing your name in a particular field. They can also, of course, signal your interests in a secondary area. The same can apply for a chapter in a multi-authored volume.

Books still, though, have great heft, so it continues to be worth thinking along those lines. Most scholars’ first monograph is in some way a recasting of their PhD, but as is often stressed, a PhD is not a book. Long-term, bear in mind that monographs are often needed for promotion once you have job in an HEI. Monographs typically are also required for tenure in the USA.

How can we raise awareness of future employers of how we contribute to the REF?

There are no secret methods here; they’re looking for typical signs of research productivity such as:

  • By having clear and reasonable plans for publications.
  • By giving talks at conferences and being invited to give talks at other institutions.
  • By organising conferences.
  • By applying for funding.
  • By demonstrating how your research has, or could have, ‘impact’.

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