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RCUK announces block grants for universities to aid drives to open access to research outputs

Research Councils UK has today, 8th November, announced the details of the block grant funding mechanism that it is introducing to aid implementation of its policy on Open Access that was announced in July and is due to come into effect in April 2013.

The block grants, which will be provided by the Research Councils from April, are to fund article processing charges (APCs). Research Councils are committed to providing funding for APCs in the long term; however, funding levels are only specified at present for an initial period of two years from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2015.There will be an interim review in 2014 to consider how the system is working and to determine the level of funding to be provided in the next Spending Review period post 2014/15.

The funding the Research Councils will allocate to supporting APCs is likely to increase in line with the expected growth in take up and the estimated total cost of APCs over this initial five year period. This also reflects the time that will be needed for researchers, institutions and publishers to transition into a Gold OA model.

In the first year (2013/14), RCUK will provide funding to enable around 45% of Research Council funded research papers to be published using Gold Open Access growing to over 50% in the second year. By the fifth year (2017/18) funding is expected to be provided to enable approximately 75% of Research Council funded research papers to be published using Gold Open Access. The remaining 25% of Research Council funded papers, it is expected will be delivered via the Green Open Access model. The same compliance expectation applies to Research Council institutes, and separate funding arrangements are being put in place to facilitate this.

Universities will receive APC publication funding in proportion to the amount of direct labour costs awarded on grants that they have received over the three years from April 2009 to March 2012. Direct labour costs have been used as a proxy of research effort leading to the generation of publications.

In order to ensure that there is administrative efficiency in the new funding mechanism for both universities and the Research Councils, a cut-off point has been set so that only institutions that are eligible for a block grant of £10, 000 or more in year-5 will receive funding. As part of the interim review in 2014 the Research Councils will look at any issues around this cut off point and, in discussion with the research community, will continue to consider whether there is the need for strategic intervention in special cases. Although not all institutions in receipt of Research Council funding will receive a block grant, the Research Councils expect that around 99% of papers arising from the research that they fund will be produced by researchers in institutions to be awarded a block grant.


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Further information

Alexandra Saxon
Head of Communications
Tel: 01793 444474 or email: Alexandra Saxon

Notes to editors

  1. The RCUK Policy on Open Access can be found here.

  2. The total amount of funding that RCUK will put into supporting APC payments is based on estimates of the numbers of publications arising from Research Council funding research in both the HEI sector and in Research Council institutes. Data from 2010 & 2011 indicate that some 26,000 peer-reviewed research papers per year arise from Research Council funded research, of which approximately 90% are produced within the HEI sector and 10% from Research Council institutes. The average cost of an APC has been taken from the Finch report (estimated as £1727 plus VAT), and using the agreed principles, funding is provided to institutions at 80% of full economic cost. The total value of the RCUK APC fund for supporting the HEI sector has therefore been set as follows:


    RCUK APC fund £17m £20m To be determined To be determined To be determined 
    Expected % of papers in Gold OA 45% 53% 60% 67% 75% 
  3. The figure for direct labour includes both directly incurred staff and directly allocated costs for investigators.

  4. The value of APC awards for years 3, 4 & 5 cannot be indicated at this stage, because of Treasury’s constraint on the commitment of funds for the next SR period; the level of funding will be dependent on the outcome of the next Spending Review. However, Research Councils estimate that the total allocation that they will need to be prepared to make for APCs over the five year period could be in excess of £100m.

  5. Monitoring and compliance of the policy and the block grant will be the subject of a workshop involving universities and research organisation representatives on 13th November 2012. Further detail on monitoring and compliance will be released after the event.

  6. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils who annually invest around £3 billion in research. We support excellent research, as judged by peer review, that has an impact on the growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK. To maintain the UK’s global research position we offer a diverse range of funding opportunities, foster international collaborations and provide access to the best facilities and infrastructure around the world. We also support the training and career development of researchers and work with them to inspire young people and engage the wider public with research. To maximise the impact of research on economic growth and societal wellbeing we work in partnership with other research funders including the Technology Strategy Board, the UK Higher Education funding bodies, business, government, and charitable organisations.

    The seven UK Research Councils are:

    • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC);
    • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);
    • Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC);
    • Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);
    • Medical Research Council (MRC);
    • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
    • Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

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