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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Call for free access to research
university library
The cost of journals has risen substantially in recent years
UK universities have joined calls for publicly-funded research to be freely available on the internet.

In a position statement, Universities UK supports moves to broaden access away from subscription-based journals and - more recently - websites.

The organisation argues that such academic material is vital to national productivity and well-being.

Its intervention is the latest in a long-running debate about the public accessiblity of research findings.

Universities UK says freeing up research would also increase the number of times it is cited by other academics - which in turn boosts researchers' claims to funding.

Cultural health

The eight UK research councils, which control most of the public funding, have proposed making free access a condition of getting grants.

The president of Universities UK, Professor Drummond Bone, said: "Publicly funded research undertaken in UK universities lies at the heart of a productive economy, as well as supporting the physical, social and cultural health of the nation.

"Ensuring that the main outputs of research - ideas and knowledge - are disseminated widely is vitally important.

"Universities UK supports moves by the research community and publishers to develop new publishing models that are based on the principle that research outcomes should be disseminated and freely accessed as widely as possible."

Rising prices

The universities say the subscription-based system of scholarly communication has served the research community well in the past but "now operates at a sub-optimal level".

A key problem has been rapidly increasing journal prices - up 58% between 1998 and 2003, compared with a general inflation rate of 11%.

Developments in electronic publishing have made possible a fundamental change, they argue.

In a report last year, the House of Commons science and technology committee also called for publicly-funded research to be made freely available online in archived digital information banks.

Publishers have argued that the cost per page has not increased - they are just being offered increasing amounts of research material.

And they say they bear the costs of having research "peer reviewed" - checked by others - and that if this were to end the integrity of research could be compromised.

They include not only commercial publishers but not-for-profit learned societies.

Universities UK says they play a crucial role and the effect of any change on them should be monitored closely.

But it says there are sustainable ways forward, probably involving a mixture of the current system and new ways of doing things, such as having those who fund the research meet the publication costs.

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