Open Access and Irish research funding and in the ‘age of austerity’

Posted on 18 July 2009

Everyone knew this was coming but it was still a shock to see the swingeing recommendations in print. It would be futile to speculate on what the organisational topography of Irish third-level education will look like this time next year but I think it’s safe to assume that streamlining and rationalisation are going to profoundly effect how research is funded by the State. Relying on bibliometric analysis as a primary yardstick of research quality meets with cold dismissal:

‘The largest verifiable output to date appears to be the publication of articles as opposed to more concrete
measures of economic returns.’

I’m not sure what these concrete measures are but the emphasis in the report seems to be toward applied research. This is a dangerous supposition infringing on the concept of academic freedom and dismissing the nursery of real innovation. One big gun is already absorbing the extent of this challenge so I won’t dwell on this here. It does seem safe to assume that the agencies delivering funding to research under The Strategy for science, Technology and Innovation 2007 – 2013 will be reconstituted in some way. Against this background of fundamental change, I hope that the enlightened policies favouring Open Access don’t wither on the vine. Science Foundation IrelandIRCSET and the Health Research Board, have been recommended for amalgamation into whatever single funding agency emerges. The proposed dissolution of the Higher Education Authority and the acquisition of that body’s functions into the Department of Education and Science could just be an exercise in ball-hopping, nonetheless this too may come to pass. Clearly, whatever agency emerges will need to re-engage with Open Access. Hopefully familiar faces and old allies will re-emerge in the new body making advocacy a less daunting task than starting from scratch.

All this flux and fear bookends a fairly successful repository summer. I was glad to have my instincts confirmed by Stuart Shieber that funder policies over institutional mandates can be more effective in leveraging Open Access. Using the stated policies of the agencies described above I was able to convince a number of high profile researchers to avail of the benefits of the repository and allow deposit of their current published research. The Open Access service that will aggregate Irish university research outputs (publications, theses etc) is also under development and looking at an end of year delivery date. This should be a core component of an all-Ireland research support infrastructure. This project is currently funded by the Irish Universities Association and the Strategic Innovation Fund which has established Institutional Repositories in all Irish universities and gone some way to keeping a roof over my head since 2005. The McCarthy Report has recommended that the fund be abolished citing the slow drawdown of available funds as the primary reason. I found this particularly irritating because, if true, it does represent a failure to capitalise on available funding when times were good. Using this fund to build the type of infrastructure needed to support teaching and research in Irish third-level would have been an exercise in the type of rationalisation strongly recommended in the report.

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