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No 6321

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Vol cxliv No 4

pp. 32–37

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Rallison was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Senior Pro-Proctor, the Deputy Junior Proctor, and four other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 12 July 2013, on the alteration and refurbishment of the Arup Building on the New Museums site (Reporter, 6316, 2012–13, p. 751).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 10 July 2013, on the establishment of two Professorships in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences (Reporter, 6316, 2012–13, p. 753).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Eighteenth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 5 July 2013 (Reporter, 6316, 2012–13, p. 753).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Deputy Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Board puts its remarks on the Research Excellence Framework and those on Open Access arrangements together under the heading of Research strategy. Those of us whose memories go back to the introduction of appraisal for academic staff a quarter of a century ago, remember that one of the firm promises was that there would be no intrusion into the freedom to choose one’s topics of research. A University ‘research strategy’ would have been unthinkable. How has that ‘undertaking’ been overtaken by events?

When the Research Services Division of the UAS (Unified Administrative Service) was proposed by the General Board in December 1999, a Research Policy Committee was also to be created to ensure academic supervision. Its remit was limited to such matters as advising ‘on externally-funded research, including policy related to the recovery of indirect costs’, and it was primarily intended to replace the Wolfson Industrial Liaison Office.1

The Annual Report of the General Board for 1998–99 drew attention to the Funding Council’s expectation ahead of the Research Assessment Exercise for 2001, ‘that institutions will need to demonstrate forward plans for research strategy’.2 A quick search of the Reporter down the years will help to fill in what happened next and how we got from there to here. The academic researcher now has to consider whether a piece of work fits the ‘research strategy’ of the Department or Faculty or School sufficiently closely to be favoured with approval and, where relevant, with funding.

The chaotic and over-hasty national introduction of Open Access is already prompting a flood of well-founded worries as its implications emerge. We all, I suspect, now receive regular spam emails offering us slots on editorial boards, opportunities to publish in fields remote from our own, help – for a fee – in ratcheting up the citation and hit-levels of our work published on and in the numerous new ‘Open Access’ journals still with their reputations to make.

The academic researcher can no longer simply explore a problem, write about a discovery, and submit the result for consideration for publication. There are new questions: which journal to choose, how much it will cost, whether the University will pay. The proposed move to Open Access ‘monographs’ will make the cost of publishing a book far too great for any individual on an academic salary and unlikely to win funding from a cash-strapped Department with a queue for funding for articles for other members of staff.

28. The Board recommends that the University ensures that its implementation of the open access scheme does not disadvantage any particular subject areas.”

Surely this is not a sufficiently powerful or comprehensive alarm call? Cambridge is one of the universities which could be resisting these changes and seeking to protect the freedom of its academic community by arguing back about the much wider ‘disadvantage’ which is bound to result from the ‘research strategy’ and ‘open access’ trends with which Cambridge has allowed itself to drift.