Research suggests more open access training for academics could help boost its uptake and support

Open access publishing, which allows people to read academic papers without a subscription, seems such a good idea. It means that anyone, anywhere in the world, can read the latest research without needing to pay. Academic institutions can spend less to keep their scholars up-to-date with work in their field. It also helps disseminate research, which means that academics receive more recognition for their achievements, boosting their career paths.

And yet despite these manifest benefits, open access continues to struggle. As Walled Culture has noted several times, one reason is that traditional academic publishers have managed to subvert the open access system, apparently embracing it, but in such a way as to negate the cost savings for institutions. Many publishers also tightly control the extent to which academic researchers can share their own papers that are released as open access, which rather misses the point of moving to this approach.

Another reason why open access has failed to take off in the way that many hoped is that academics often don’t seem to care much about supporting it or even using it. Again, given the clear benefits for themselves, their institutions and their audience, that seems extraordinary. Some new research sheds a little light on why this may be happening. It is based on an online survey that was carried out regarding the extent and nature of training in open access offered to doctoral students, sources of respondents’ open access knowledge, and their perspectives on open access. The results are striking:

a large majority of current (81%) and recent (84%) doctoral students are or were not required to undertake mandatory open access training. Responses from doctoral supervisors aligned with this, with 66% stating that there was no mandatory training for doctoral students at their institution. The Don’t know figure was slightly higher for supervisors (16%), suggesting some uncertainty about what is required of doctoral students.

The surprisingly high figures quoted above matter, because

a statistically significant difference was observed between respondents who have completed training and those who have not. These findings provide some solid evidence that open access training has an impact on researcher knowledge and practices

One worrying aspect is where else researchers are obtaining their knowledge of open access principles and practices:

Web resources and colleagues were found to be the most highly rated sources, but publisher information also scored highly, which may be cause for some concern. While it is evident that publisher information about open access may be of value to researchers, if for no other reason than to explain the specific open access options available to authors submitting to a particular journal, publishers are naturally incentivised to describe positively the forms of open access they offer to authors, and therefore can hardly be said to represent an objective source of information about open access in general terms.

What this means in practice is that academics may simply accept the publishers’ version of open access, without calling into question why it is so expensive or so restrictive in allowing papers to be shared freely. It could explain why the publishers’ distorted form of the original open access approach does not meet greater resistance. On the plus side, the survey revealed widespread support for more open access training:

First, only 27% of respondents answered that the level of open access training offered as part of their doctoral studies was sufficient. Second, there was widespread agreement with a number of statements presented to respondents that related to actions institutions could take to support researcher understanding of open access. There was widest agreement with the notion that institutions should provide Web resources about open access specifically for doctoral students, followed by optional training for these students. The statement that suggested institutions should require doctoral students to undertake open access training received agreement or strong agreement from almost half of respondents (45%).

Although the research reveals widely differing views on requirements for open access training, and who exactly should provide it, there does seem to be an opportunity to increase researchers’ familiarity with the concept and its benefits. Rather than lamenting the diluted form of open access that major publishers now offer, open access advocates might usefully spend more time spreading the word about its benefits to the people who can make it happen – new and established researchers – by helping to provide training in a variety of forms.

Featured image by Hans Wolff.

Follow me @glynmoody on Mastodon and on Bluesky.

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner