Monitoring sector progress towards compliance with funder open access policies

In 2017, we worked with the former HEFCE, RCUK, Jisc and Wellcome to develop an open access assessment template in the form of an online survey. Our survey has now been used to produce a study, released by the recently-formed UKRI.

Please find the Executive Summary of our report “Monitoring sector progress
towards compliance with funder open access policies” below.


This project was jointly commissioned by HEFCE, RCUK, Jisc, and Wellcome to develop an open access assessment template for the UK higher education sector. The final template, in the form of an online survey, is due to be circulated to all UK higher education institutions (HEIs) later in 2017. It will be used to enhance understanding of how the sector is meeting funders’ open access policies and to inform future policy implementation, benchmarking and systems developments.

This report summarises the work done by Research Consulting to develop and pilot a draft assessment template between May and July 2017. It also provides insights into 18 institutions’ progress towards the delivery of OA, gathered via qualitative interviews conducted as part of the pilot process.


Research Consulting approached this project through five work packages (WPs):

  • Initial consultation: We mapped the objectives relevant to this work and set up a steering group with representatives of all project partners.
  • Review of the evidence base: We reviewed relevant evidence, considering both national and international developments in the OA environment.
  • Development of an OA assessment template: We developed a draft assessment template in collaboration with representatives of the four partners and a small group of HEI-based experts. This led to a survey consisting of 38 questions, including both quantitative queries and free text comments.
  • Validation and testing: We validated and tested the survey through a pilot process involving 18 UK HEIs selected in collaboration with HEFCE. These were asked to complete the draft online survey and then provide further feedback via interviews. Interviews included questions on the survey itself as well as the HEIs broader experience of implementing funder OA policies.
  • Analysis and reporting: We coded the findings of our interviews to prepare the present report and handed the OA assessment template over to HEFCE. We also used the survey results and the qualitative feedback obtained through the interviews to inform changes to the assessment template.

Progress towards OA compliance

Our work identified four key challenges faced by institutions:

  • Complexity of the environment
  • Resource constraints
  • Cultural resistance
  • Inadequate technical infrastructure

Institutions are taking steps to overcome these challenges through:

  • Improvements in reporting – prioritising the development of improved reporting mechanisms for open access.
  • Development of systems and workflows – working to increase efficiency, reduce the administrative burden on researchers, and improve interoperability between software packages.
  • Advocacy and engagement – supporting the research community via face-to-face interactions, and standardising support through the development of guidance materials and FAQs.
  • Increased alignment across the sector – pursuing opportunities for HEIs to work together, including adoption of common standards, increased data-sharing and development of a UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UK-SCL).

However, interviewees identify a need for further developments in the wider environment, including:

  • Harmonising funder policies
  • Engaging with publishers
  • Evidencing the benefits of open access
  • Improving information flows
  • Managing costs to the system

The role of block grants

Block grant funding from RCUK and the Charities Open Access Fund (COAF) has been, and continues to be, crucial to enabling OA compliance via the ‘gold’ route (it should be noted that that the research for this report was carried out prior to announcement of the RCUK block grant’s continuation until 2020). In the case of RCUK, it has also underpinned the development of human and technical infrastructure for OA. Some cross-subsidisation of compliance with Research Excellence Framework requirements has occurred in recent years. However, institutions are mindful of the need to ensure that RCUK-funded staff are supporting OA for RCUK-funded authors on an ongoing basis. Levels of reliance on the block grant for staff costs are highly variable, and not necessarily correlated with the level of funding received. Institutions acknowledge the likely transitional nature of this support, but note that its withdrawal would be highly disruptive if undertaken too rapidly.

Implementing ‘deposit on acceptance’

We sought feedback from the pilots on the planned move to a ‘deposit on acceptance’ requirement for the REF OA policy, from 1 April 2018. We found interviewees’ viewpoints to be polarised on this point, with no clear correlation with volume of research outputs, or adoption of a current research information system (CRIS). We would note, however, that our sample size was small, and the viewpoints expressed were primarily those of library staff, and may not reflect a considered institutional position. Quantitative data from the full assessment exercise is expected to shed more light on the potential implications of ‘deposit on acceptance’, but there was uniform agreement on the need to minimise uncertainty as the REF 2021 exercise draws nearer.

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