We’ve all been there. A business project requires expert research-oriented knowledge or you are researching for your MBA in international business management. A Google search turns up some relevant academic research content.
But when you click to view you are suddenly confronted by a pay wall. What is even more frustrating is that often the research paper behind the pay wall is the output of publicly funded research.
1. Should publicly funded research be freely available?
This, of course, begs the question “Who owns the research?” Surely publicly funded research should be freely available. Where there is a charge should the income not go back into the research pot to fund further knowledge creation?
The business of research knowledge has become big business globally. We have a system whereby publicly funded research results and knowledge become the intellectual property of major publishing houses. These publishers then charge universities, businesses and individuals for access. It’s a nice business model – if you are a publisher. But not for anyone else.
2. Journals enjoy profit margins up to 70%
A recent study by a British university suggests journals enjoy profit margins of up to 70%. The British Government announced earlier this year that they will act on the recommendations in a commissioned report on open access for research publishing by Dame Janet Finch. However they have indicated an intention to pay the publishers for the content which would, in turn, be publicly available.
So the publishers will continue to be rewarded and paid for content that either results directly from publicly funded research – or that which is cross subsidised by universities from teaching budgets.
3. The government spends £5bn on research
In an article earlier this year in the Guardian newspaper, David Willetts the Universities and Science Minister indicated the UK spends £5bn per year on research.
He said: “We fund this research because it furthers human knowledge and drives intellectual, social and economic progress. In line with our commitment to open information, I will be announcing at the Publishers Association annual meeting that we will make publicly funded research accessible free of charge to readers. Giving people the right to roam freely over publicly funded research will usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration, and will put the UK at the forefront of open research.”
£5bn is a substantial sum of money by anyone’s standard. The value of knowledge and intellectual capital created by research must reasonably be assumed to represent a multiple value increase over research spend. The economic and business value of research, were it to be made freely available, is enormous.
4. Open access must become the norm
Open access to such knowledge should be a requisite of research funding and open access publishing should become the norm rather than the exception.
Over recent months we have seen major public campaigns around business taxation and including the tax affairs of Starbucks. Yet there is little public debate on the practices surrounding research knowledge nor on the tax affairs of some of the leading publishers.
Indeed, some of these publishers, including Informa, have moved their businesses offshore for the purpose of gaining tax efficiencies. Tax avoidance.
So the research knowledge becomes a double-edged farce where even the argument that the corporate tax paid by publishers effectively contributes to the public purse, which then funds the research, no longer exists.
The tax affairs of Starbucks and their offer of a £10m annual tax payment in the UK is paltry in comparison to the huge sums involved in academic publishing.
Is open access the answer to this issue?