Enhancing access to your research: A policy review of Open Access

Written by Alphia Possamai-Inesedy, Editor in Chief, Journal of Sociology:

The ever changing world of academia has two recent phenomena that appear to be here for the foreseeable future, namely the impact of research funding agencies and the quantification of our work. Open Access (OA) is related to both of these. Funding bodies demand it and by making use of OA, academics can influence the reach and impact of their research. The following article outlines definitions of and policies about OA and provides an overview of the toolbox available to academic researchers to broaden the access of their research and, in turn, potentially increase its impact.

For academics, OA means making research, whether published as journal articles, book chapters or monographs, freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. An important characteristic of OA is that users can not only access, but also make use of, research materials for any lawful purpose (such as downloading, sharing, and passing them as data to software), thereby avoiding the pay wall structures of university affiliations or journal subscriptions. This occurs when the author publishes through a journal that provides Gold Access, which has publication fee structures set by publishing houses, or uses Green Access by self-archiving a version of the article for free public use in an institutional or discipline repository after publication.

OA overview

The Global Milestones for OA project began in June 2012 with the UK Finch report, which demanded expanding public access to taxpayer funded research. As occasionally happens with research guidelines, Australia soon followed the UK model. In July 2012 both major funding bodies in Australia, the NHMRC and the ARC, announced their policy on government funded research and OA. While the UK stipulated Gold OA in their policy, the Australian government has recommended Green OA. As indicated above, there are differences in fee payment and accessibility of work.

The NHMRC policy mandated Green OA in 2012 and the ARC followed in January 2013. For Green OA, authors publish in any journal and then self-archive a version of the article for free public use in their institutional repository, a central repository or another OA website. It is recommended that authors deposit the peer-reviewed postprint – either the author’s refereed, revised final draft or the publisher’s version of record. Green OA journal publishers endorse immediate OA self-archiving by their authors. The ARC and NHMRC provide a 12-month embargo period, within which time academics must have their work archived for public use. With Gold OA, authors publish in an open access journal that provides immediate OA to all its articles on the publisher’s website. Many journals can be termed hybrid OA, where Gold OA is only used for articles for which the author (or the author’s institution or funding body) pays an OA publishing fee. This is the approach adopted by Sage, the publishing house of the Journal of Sociology. For Green OA, if you are unsure about which version to archive in a repository, the best approach is to contact the publishing house and ask for their policy on OA.

An area that has been neglected in this debate is the use of OA for monographs. In March 2014, higher education funding bodies in the UK announced a new policy for OA in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) environment. The policy required that certain outputs that are available in OA format be admissible to the next REF assessment. Monographs were excluded from these requirements. The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) has a number of similarities to REF, so in future similar policies in relation to monographs might be expected here.

Recently, the Higher Education Funding Council for England addressed the complexity of applying OA to monographs (Crossick et al., 2015) in partnership with their two research councils, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The report highlights that the monograph must be sustained as an important and distinctive vehicle for research communication. It recommends that the availability of printed books must co-exist with OA versions. It further argues that OA for monographs is dependent on a satisfactory transition to digital publishing. Publishing houses are making inroads into this area with a number of different models proposed. An emerging area of interest is the open review process that is slowly being developed by publishing houses (see, for instance, the German publishing house de Gruyter).

The complexities and opportunities of OA

An increasing number of funding bodies outside the ARC and NHMRC now expect OA publishing as part of their requirements. Research (i.e. Harnad et al., 2008; Gargouri et al., 2010; Björk et al., 2012; Laakso et al., 2012; Björk et al., 2014) has demonstrated a positive relationship between making research available through repositories and increases in citations and therefore impact. If this is the case, then we must ask why more academics are not depositing their work in repositories as a regular practice?

There are a number of complexities here, including that definitions of OA vary between disciplines, ownership of the rights to work, and understanding diverse copyright legislation. Every publishing house will have different policies for OA. In particular, with some publishers academics who use Gold OA do not have full rights to their work, such as the ability to deposit it in a discipline based repository. Copyright legislation is further complicated by major differences between publishing houses in relation to OA. Publication of the final version (post proofs) of an article, book chapter or monograph is rarely allowed, and while most will allow self-archiving of peer-reviewed postprint versions, embargo periods can be enforced. Preprint versions of the paper prior to peer review can be uploaded immediately because the author holds copyright. This provides opportunities for academics to publish conference papers; work that is often neglected if not suitable for a journal article.

Despite these complexities, the potential of self-archiving for raising academics’ visibility and impact are incentive enough to make it a regular practice. Sociologists such as Deborah Lupton have investigated the best discipline based repositories outside of institutions. Her work has shown that the best combination of self-archiving is to combine an institutional repository with Academia® www.academia.edu/ The combination of deposits in this way should broaden the reach of research.


Björk, B. C., Laakso, M., Welling, P., & Paetau, P. (2014). Anatomy of green open access. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65(2), 237–250.

Björk, B. C., & Solomon, D. (2012). Open access versus subscription journals: A comparison of scientific impact. BMC Medicine, 10(1), 1.

Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Larivière, V., Gingras, Y., Carr, L., Brody, T., & Harnad, S. (2010). Self-selected or mandated, open access increases citation impact for higher quality research. PloS One, 5(10), e13636.

Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras, Y. & Hilf, E. R. (2008). The access/impact problem and the green and gold roads to open access: An update. Serials Review, 34(1), 36–40.

Laakso, M., & Björk, B. C. (2012). Anatomy of open access publishing: A study of longitudinal development and internal structure. BMC Medicine, 10(1), 1.









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