Wellcome is going to review its open access policy

We’re going to do the first full review of our open access policy. Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research, explains the motivation behind the review, and how and when it will happen.

Eggs with 'ask me about open access' labels
Wellcome was the first research funder to introduce a mandatory open access policy, back in 2005.
Credit: Kate Harbison/Flickr

In 2005 – so before Twitter had even launched and Myspace was the main social network – Wellcome became the first research funder to introduce a mandatory open access (OA) policy. This specified that research articles, supported in whole or in part by our funding, had to be made open access as soon as possible, and in any event with six months of publication.

In the years since, we’ve made various modifications, such as extending the policy to cover monographs and book chapters, and stipulating that when our funds are used to cover OA publishing costs, articles must be made available under the Creative Commons attribution licence (CC-BY). But we haven’t ever done a formal review of the entire OA policy.

Given significant changes in publishing research article over the past dozen or so years, we think the time is right to look again at our OA policy. We want to ensure that it is fully optimised to help us deliver our mission to improve human health.

A changing landscape in scholarly communications

Key changes in scholarly communications include:

  • the development of funder-led publishing platforms (such as Wellcome Open Research)
  • the increasing use of pre-printing as a way of sharing research findings before they are formally peer reviewed
  • the launch of new funder policies (eg Gates Foundation, HEFCE etc)
  • related initiatives such as the UK Scholarly Communications Licence

Several new services have also come online – such as Unpaywall and the Publication Router – designed to help researchers identify OA content held in institutional and subject repositories.

Rising costs

The costs of delivering our OA policy are increasing. In part this is a consequence of more Wellcome-attributed research being published OA – compliance with our policy is over 75% – but it is also due to increases in OA article processing charges (APCs). 

In 2015-16 Wellcome spent £5.7 million delivering this policy, and we know from COAF data, that 71% of APCs go to funding hybrid OA; articles which are published in a subscription journal but can be made OA on the payment of a fee. 

Significantly, the COAF data also reveals that the average APC for a hybrid OA article (£2,209) is 34% higher than the average APC for an article in a fully OA journal (£1,644).

What we want the OA review to achieve

The overarching aim of our OA policy is to ensure that knowledge and discoveries which arise from our funding are shared and used in a manner that maximises the benefit to health. This objective remains our north star.

Beyond this however, we’ve defined three additional objectives. Specifically, the OA policy should:

  • support a transition to a fully OA world, where no research is behind a paywall
  • be as clear, unambiguous and straightforward as possible to comply with
  • ensure that the costs of delivering this policy are fair and proportionate.

How we’re going to do the review

The policy review will be undertaken by an internal, Wellcome-wide team.

We know that any changes to our OA policy will impact on all our researchers, so we will run an online survey to help us understand what has worked well and where the pain points are. The survey will also highlight several possible future directions so we can gauge attitudes to these proposals.

We are going to talk to institutions who manage the OA block grants, our COAF partners and publishers.

And in parallel with the Wellcome review, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be undertaking a review of current RCUK and HEFCE policies in 2018. Wellcome and UKRI will observe each other’s policy review groups.

Review timeline

We plan to carry out this review over the next six months. We will announce its outcome before the end of 2018. 

If the review leads to any changes to the OA policy, we will allow sufficient time for stakeholders to understand these changes and make any adjustments as required before these are implemented.

During the review, and throughout any implementation period, Wellcome’s open access policy and our mechanisms for paying open access costs remain the same.

We hope this review will help us to meet two important aims – to ensure that our OA policy remains fit for purpose and can deliver OA to the growing volume of Wellcome-funded research in an efficient and effective manner, and to support a wider transition to OA publishing. 

If you have questions, contact us at

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