Productivity Commission backs open access push

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Removing the paywalls on research literature would boost Australian innovation, according to the Productivity Commission, which is recommending the Albanese government give consideration to the world-first open access model being developed by the chief scientist.

Australia’s chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley is currently finalising her advice to government on an Australian open access model she says would go much further than global efforts to unlock research.

The Productivity Commission’s (PC) five-yearly productivity inquiry, published on Friday, throws support behind open access because of the “significant benefits for diffusion and productivity growth”.

research women in stem
PC: open access could be a boon for innovation diffusion and productivity

The PC said the Albanese government should give consideration to the costs and benefits of Dr Foley’s model and other approaches to open access gaining traction around the world because of research’s potential impact on innovation.

“Many academic journals, research papers and publications are locked behind paywalls that can be expensive to access for businesses and individuals that do not have a subscription, even though the research has often been funded by taxpayers,” the report said.

“Restricted access can limit the reach of this research and its use not only for commercialising novel innovations in areas such as medicine and climate technology, but also for disseminating existing innovative practices to small businesses and individuals.”

Keeping information “locked in research journals” impacts Australian businesses and policy makers, which don’t have immediate access to the latest evidence for crucial areas like education, health and climate change, the PC said.

Statistics cited in the report shows journals, research papers and publications are a relatively low source of ideas or information for innovative Australian businesses. The main source of innovation typically comes from within the business or from its clients.

The government’s economic research and advisory body notes there are multiple open access models in use around the world, including author pays or requirements that publicly-funded research be freely available through open-source arrangements.

Last year, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) became the country’s first major funding agency to institute a requirement that scholarly publications arising from the research it funds be made freely available and accessible.

This is the preference at the Australian Research Council but it allows embargo times and discretion in the licencing models.

Australia’s chief scientist is working on a plan that goes much further.

Dr Foley is considering a model that would give every Australian access to research without fee – not just researchers – with a new implementation body negotiating a deal with the publishers who have historically kept the work behind paywalls.

The model goes much further than open access schemes in the US and Europe by including existing research libraries and has been designed specifically for Australia’s own challenges.

After exploring the issue for decades, including most of the last two years working on a new national open access strategy, Dr Foley will recommend the new model to the Albanese government as a way to address key economic and social issues. understands this advice is now being finalised for government consideration.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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