Published online 3 June 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.538
Corrected online: 3 June 2009


Open-access publishing gains another convert

University College London joins rapidly growing throng.

UCLUCL is setting up an institutional repository for its research.UCL

University College London (UCL) has become the latest institution to adopt an open-access publishing policy, adding to a rapid increase in such mandates over the past year.

Open-access analysts say the move foreshadows a series of announcements from many other UK universities that have been considering similar policies.

Under UCL's system, all research published by university staff will be placed online in an institutional free-to-access repository — but only when publishers' copyright rules allow.

UCL, one of the UK's leading research-intensive universities, announced on 3 June that it had established a publications board to implement the policy. The policy will take full effect with the beginning of the 2009–2010 academic year, says Paul Ayris, director of UCL library services.

Join the club

UCL's decision, approved by a unanimous vote of its academic board in October 2008, follows a host of other institutional open-access mandates. By June 2009, 34 other institutions and 13 departments or faculties, including Switzerland's ETH-Zurich and, in the US, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (see 'Harvard adopts open-access policy') and Massachusetts Institute of Technology had already adopted varying guidelines.

"Open-access mandates [from institutions, departments and funding bodies] have almost doubled globally in the year that has elapsed since Harvard's mandate in May 2008," says Stevan Harnad, an advocate of open access at the University of Southampton, UK.

Click for a larger image.Alma Swan

UCL's move is unlikely to improve public access to scientific research papers, as national bodies that support research already demand that. Thirty-six of them — including the US National Institutes of Health, all seven UK research councils, and the European Research Council — require work they have financed to be made publicly available (usually through deposition in open-access repositories such as PubMed Central, six months after publication).

But Alma Swan, a consultant for Key Perspectives, which analyses scholarly communications, says the recent flurry of institutional activity has come because university officials are realizing the importance of increasing their institution's visibility on the internet, and of creating a complete record that can be analysed and compared against other institutions' outputs or easily entered in national funding competitions. The UK and Australia, which both allocate funding depending on the quality of published research, lead the world in open-access repository policies, Swan notes.

"A lot of other UK universities are also considering their policies. We're going to start to see the dominoes fall," she says.

Publisher impact

The UCL policy is unlikely to immediately affect publishers, thinks Peter Suber, director of the Open Access project at the Washington DC–based non-profit lobby group Public Knowledge. "Publishers who don't want to allow open access on UCL's terms won't have to," he says, as it seems UCL will defer to publishers' copyright policies.

Critics of open-access policies say the free distribution of articles may reduce the value of journals — and, if displayed online in draft form, increase the prominence of non-peer-reviewed research. But UCL's Ayris says he doesn't see any evidence for publishers losing business as a result of preprint open-access servers that already exist, such as ArXiv. "I see the two forms of publication as complementary," he says.

Swan adds that, for the moment, universities bringing in open-access repositories are concentrating on the administration of the task, rather than competing with publishers. "In the future, I expect we will find universities want more control," she says. 


We incorrectly stated that PubMed was the name of an open access repository in an earlier version of this piece. The correct name of the repository is PubMed Central.


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  • #60623

    The problem with university repositories is they aren't really that accessible – unless you can find a way to automatically connect repositories to pubmed or indexing databases in other disciplines. MadelineI

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