The Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has spoken of UK government plans to open the access to taxpayer-funded academic research online to the public. The minister outlined the plans in a speech to the Publisher's Association today.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been drafted in to help make British academic research available online to anyone who wants to read or use it.
Currently, most research is published in academic journals that cost university libraries and researchers hundreds of pounds for access.
Free access a 'seismic shift'
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts wrote an article calling the changes a 'seismic shift' several hours before the plan was announced in PA annual meeting today.
He said that his department spent about 5 billion pounds each year funding academic research. The UK's higher edutcation sector currently spends about 200 million pounds a year accessing UK-based and international research published in journals and databases.
He claimed that publicly available academic research "furthers human knowledge and drives intellectual, social and economic progress". However, he added that it may also cause harm to the "value added by academic publishers". Therefore, the payment for genuine, objective peer reviewed research is still necessary.
Willetts outlined two models. The first would see universities and others who fund the research cover the costs of the review process. And the second alternative would involve publishers being allowed to restrict access for a limited time to recoup costs before a wider release.
University students response
Students from the University of Sheffield have a variety of opinions on the open access plans.
Ross from the East Asian Studies department does not think it is necessary for all people in UK to freely access academic research. He said: "The payment for accessing the journal database is already included in our tuition fee, and that's one of the reasons why people want to attend university. I don't think people outside campus do a lot of research, and if they need it, they should pay for it."
Some students take the opposite view. James, a postgraduate student studying Sociology said: "The journals should be free for the public. They still cost a lot of money. That means for now, academic information is only accessible for people within the institution, not for the general public. It's not fair for the whole of society. A lot of people can't afford to go to the university, so they are excluded from that information. The open access maintains an equality in society."
Laura, Town Planning student, agrees. She said: "Knowledge is not just for academic. People might need some information during their lives. Academic research can help the general public in many ways."
Sam Milne, a first year student in Economics and Politics, said: "The academic research is not like privacy or personal information. It is good for the public to make it freely open."