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Scholarly Communication


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What is Open Access?

Open Access is simply making published research results freely available to anyone with an internet connection rather than keeping those results hidden behind a subscription paywall. The term open access was coined in 2002 as part of the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

The majority of scholarly journals are only available to people who pay a subscription or who are members of an institution who pays a subscription. Open Access uses digital technology to make research findings widely available. There are two ways to make work available: either by depositing a copy of their published work in a repository or by publishing in a journal that makes the work freely available immediately.

Why Open Access?

A large proportion of the research undertaken in the UK is supported by public funds. The researchers do the research and write up their work into journal articles, conference papers, books chapters or books. Once submitted for publication editors (other researchers) assess the work and send it out for peer review which is conducted by the academic community. Researchers do not receive payment or royalties for their published articles. In addition, the tasks of peer review and editing are considered to be part of the scholarly process and are undertaken without payment.

Once the work is published, institutional libraries (which are publicly funded) pay large amounts for subscriptions to journals. This means that people affiliated with these institutions can access the research but those without an affiliation cannot. Practitioners such as pharmacists, teachers, nurses, business people are unable to see the latest developments in their field.

How do we make work Open Access?

Making a copy of published work available in a subject-based or an institutional repository is referred to as ‘green’ Open Access. The Cambridge repository contains many thousands of open access items. You can deposit your work to the repository here. Examples of subject-based repositories include such as arXiv in the high energy physics and mathematics disciplines, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) and PubMed Central

Alternatively researchers can publish in an Open Access journal, where the publisher of a scholarly journal provides free online access to the full content of the journal.  Business models for this form of Open Access vary.  In some cases, the publisher charges the author’s institution or funding body an article processing charge (APC). All Public Library of Science (PLOS) journals use this model. This is referred to as ‘gold’ Open Access.

A relatively new model is 'hybrid' journals, where publishers offer the option of paying to make a particular article Open Access within an otherwise subscription journal. This does open up the question of 'double dipping' - where the publishers receive payment for both the subscription and the article processing charges. In order to address this issue, there have been several offsetting arrangements negoatiated for UK universities.

Benefits of Open Access

Open Access makes published research freely available to people without a subscription. The philosophical basis for Open Access is that publicly funded research should be publicly available. In addition, humanity is facing considerable challenges in relation to food, water, energy and transport into the future. We need the research community to work together to devise solutions, and excluding a significant number of researchers from the discussion because research output is behind paywalls does not work towards this end goal. This image demonstrates some of the benefits of Open Access.