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Now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge


In 2008 Harvard’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences voted unanimously to adopt a ground-breaking open access policy. Since then, over 70 other institutions, including other Harvard faculties, Stanford and MIT, have adopted similar policies based on the Harvard model. In Europe such institutional policies have, so far, been slow to get off the ground.

We are beginning to see that situation change.

Birkbeck, University of London, has recently launched its new Open Research Policy, in line with its founder’s vision of opening access to research findings, outputs and outcomes. In the following interview, Paul Rigg, Senior Assistant Librarian (Repository & Digital Media Management) at Birkbeck, explains why and how this policy was developed and shares three tips for any other institution that might consider adopting a similar approach. Special thanks to Sarah Lee, Head of Research Strategy Support at Birkbeck, for her edits and suggestions in shaping this piece.

cOAlition S: Could you please, describe the author copyright policy you have adopted at Birkbeck, University of London?

Paul Rigg: The Open Access facets of Birkbeck’s new Open Research policy currently apply only to “short-form” publications; that is, a) peer-reviewed, original articles appearing in journals or online publishing platforms (including review articles) and b) peer-reviewed conference papers accepted by journals, conference proceedings with an ISSN, or online platforms publishing original work.

Where a publication is not accepted in a fully OA journal/platform which meets licensing and technical criteria or is participating in a Transformative Agreement, the College requires authors to retain certain rights to their work. This is so it can be shared via the Green open access route with no embargo, under a CC BY licence. The researcher must include the following statement in the funding acknowledgement section and in any letter or cover note accompanying the submission: ‘for the purposes of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any author accepted manuscript version arising from this submission’.


cOAlition S: Why did the idea of adopting an institutional rights retention policy emerge?

Paul Rigg: In 1823, the College’s founder Dr George Birkbeck set out his vision: ‘now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge’. That statement continues to underpin the mission and culture of the institution and will be one of the principal foci when we celebrate our bicentennial. Rights retention is a key element of our new Open Research Policy and having the policy in place before this anniversary is one of the ways we are re-energising our mission for the 21st Century.

One of the benefits of rights retention is the easing of the increasing “policy stack” in Open Access. With Plan S applying to UKRI- and Wellcome-funded authors, and REF rules to a broader swathe of researchers, the College felt that clarification and distillation were necessary to give a few clearly defined rules applying to as many people as possible.

We also want to show our solidarity with other UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs); Birkbeck is at the forefront of open access through our diamond platform, the Open Library of the Humanities, and has long been part of a group carefully considering the implementation of a UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UKSCL). As “big deals” with publishers become unsustainable for many, Open Access is becoming increasingly important to enable researchers to read, and build on, the work of their peers. As a relatively small but mission-driven institution, Birkbeck is potentially in a better position to pivot than many larger HEIs.

As ‘big deals’ with publishers become unsustainable for many, Open Access is becoming increasingly important to enable researchers to read, and build on, the work of their peers.

cOAlition S: How was the agreement reached across the institution?

Paul Rigg: A data policy was being developed concurrently with a new open publications policy, so combining these into an overarching open research policy made sense. During the summer of 2021, a first draft was drawn up by members of our Open Research Working Group. Once general principles were ratified, the policy went through several drafts incorporating input from colleagues, including the repository manager, data manager, and other specialists. It was sent to the College’s Research Committee in October 2021, then Academic Board in November 2021, before being reviewed by our Governors. A more “dynamic” guidance document incorporating information from both Wellcome Trust and UKRI will accompany the policy.


cOAlition S: What challenges had to be overcome before it was agreed to adopt the policy?

Paul Rigg: There was concern in academic circles that this kind of policy effectively prevents publishing with some major publishers who will not tolerate rights retention. This is a legitimate concern but one we are working through with our academic colleagues as the situation evolves.

Our policy is an open research policy rather than specifically an open access policy, giving us an opportunity to further clarify aspects of data protection legislation and GDPR. Parts of the policy were rewritten to address participant data and confidentiality, with explicit reference to GDPR.

A future challenge is that by ensuring that the policy runs parallel to existing open access initiatives (Wellcome and UKRI), we will need to stay up to date on even minor alterations to those.


cOAlition S: What are the advantages of adopting the policy for your researchers and your institution?

Paul Rigg: The primary advantage is that open access gets our research out into the world; it enhances not just the visibility and reach of the college but of individual researchers. It enables better communication of ideas and easier collaboration as a means of exploring them. In short, it supports us to deliver our mission better. Rights retention specifically acknowledges not just the hard work but also the ownership of the expression of ideas by researchers.

The College hopes rights retention will help normalise deposit on BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Research Online, the College’s institutional repository) without embargoes, thus smoothing compliance with UKRI and Wellcome policies, not to mention supporting planning for the next REF exercise.

Rights retention specifically acknowledges not just the hard work but also the ownership of the expression of ideas by researchers.

cOAlition S: In conclusion, what are your three top tips for any other university considering adopting a similar permissions-based Open Access policy to yours?

Paul Rigg: 1) Listen to concerns from your academics and take them seriously. Many of these can be context-specific, and academic buy-in is crucial to the evolution of publishing culture.

2) Provide a clear route for help and advice when things don’t go according to plan. Colleagues can contact named individuals who are collaborating across professional services and liaising with external sources at both funders and other HEIs. This network is helping to define and resolve some of the challenges arising from the roll-out of the new policy.

3) Acknowledge that we are all in a learning phase and that there will be bumps in the road. Approaches may be dependent on circumstances, so solutions are not always applicable across all contexts. Funders do not always seem to have satisfactory answers to questions which have not been asked before. Academics face unique challenges as many variables come into play on any given piece of work. We cannot yet see the horizon; at times, we cannot see a few metres ahead, but the ground is there, and we all have a role to play in shaping it.


More questions about Birkbeck’s Open Research Policy? 

Paul Rigg

Paul Rigg has managed the institutional repository, BIROn, at Birkbeck College since 2010. Prior to this he worked in the repository team and a number of other roles at University College London. He is currently completing an MSc in Library and Information Management at the University of Ulster, with a dissertation focusing on Academic Social Networking Sites and sharing behaviour.