Last Thursday, the German state of Baden-Württemberg approved a new law on higher education. It covers quite a number of areas, from access to degree study to an Ombudsman system for doctoral research students, but it is the section on open access publishing that has attracted far the most attention.
Under the new law, universities are required to support their researchers in exercising their right to a non-commercial reproduction of their work after a period of one year. As the publishers do not accept that researchers have any such ‘right’, it is entirely unsurprising that they are bitterly critical of this provision.
Theresia Bauer, the Green Party minister who guided the law through parliament, argues that open access is desirable in principle as a way of informing public opinion. She also cites more practical grounds: the public already pay for the research, and the rising price of journal subscriptions means that even university libraries struggle to pay once more for the published findings.
Conservative opposition politicians have supported the publishers, arguing that it contravenes copyright law. Some prominent academics have even argued that the requirement to make their publicationsavailable in an institutional is an attack on academic freedom.
You might not know much about Baden-Württemberg, but that doesn’t make it a minor backwater. It has nearly 11m inhabitants and its capital, Stuttgart, is home to some of Germany’s best-known quality car manufacturers. It could serve as a model of the successful, dynamic city-region, with a high density of researchers among its population. The state also houses a thriving wine industry and the beer is pretty good too (I once enjoyed a pint – yes, a pint – in a bar that claimed to have been Hegel’s regular when he was a student).
If Baden-Württemberg chose to declare independence from the rest of the federal republic, it would be one of Europe’s most prosperous and attractive countries. So I am starting to wonder what would happen if the Scottish Government adopted a similar principle, and insisted that all academics in publicly funded universities in Scotland should similarly make their work available online.
If Holyrood were to reach such a decision, they would find themselves in open conflict with the UK Government, which has opted for the far more publisher-friendly model of ‘gold open access’. Picking fights with Westminster is what Alex Salmond likes best, so long as he is on a winning wicket. In this case, I am pretty sure that he would find widespread support for ‘green open access’, both in the research community and among the wider public who pay for our research.