by Julia Mortimer
25th October 2021

It matters how we open knowledge: Building structural equality. This is the theme of this year’s Open Access Week, which starts today. It aligns closely with the recently released UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science which stresses the importance of equity in pursuing a future for scholarship that is open by default.

I couldn’t agree more that this should be at the heart of all endeavours: to make research findings and publishing accessible to all. Building structural equality is the essence of our mission at Bristol University Press (BUP) so that research can have a societal impact and be a force for positive change to tackle global social challenges. We were the first university press to sign up to the UN SDG Publishers Compact, which aims to accelerate progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.



The transition to OA should be the motivation for moving from existing inequitable models and to reimagine a different kind of progressive publishing landscape which values respectful, high-quality publishing services and the importance of real-world impact.

To this end, mission-led, not-for-profit university presses and society publishers like BUP can really help to bring about lasting change. We are proud that our OA articles and books have been accessed in 155 countries worldwide. But we are aware there is much more to do.


The new Global Social Challenges Journal – a major OA initiative

We have recently announced a major new OA publishing initiative to provide a platform for vital work. Our Global Social Challenges Journal is a new, interdisciplinary, non-profit Open Access journal, with a mission to question, explore and navigate our way through the social aspects of the challenges that face us.



Engaging with innovative and critical perspectives, including decolonial and Southern epistemologies and their relationship with those of the Global North, the journal will respond directly to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and encompass co-production and other participatory approaches. The journal will also recognise new methodologies, offering a range of novel and more traditional outputs, aiming to foster dialogue between academics, policy makers, thought leaders, NGOs, practitioners and the public. In order to fulfil on its mission publishing in the journal needs to be accessible to all.

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Global Social Challenges Journal David Simon says:

“Having worked with funders who require OA publication for some years, and at the same time having held editorial responsibilities for journals with major footprints in low-income countries, I am acutely aware of the challenges posed by the gradual transition to OA and payment of APCs by authors, especially those in disadvantaged institutions and regions. Existing waiver schemes are not inclusive enough, while many publishers are increasing APCs above inflation while still obtaining subscription income. By contrast, my experience of publishing two OA books with Policy Press/BUP has been very positive. In this context, I could not resist the opportunity to work with BUP as a non-profit university publisher in developing a new journal devoted to global challenges.”

We are extremely grateful to the University of Bristol for their support for this important initiative.


The policy landscape and equity in publishing

The past two years have seen rapid steps forward in OA publishing in general. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced their new OA policy in August and it is very much in line with Plan S guidance, offering a range of routes to OA for journals but with considerable emphasis on large-scale Read-and-Publish transformative agreements (TAs) and the Gold OA model.

However, are the policies and developments so far as equitable as they could be?

This is the cause of much debate. Not all institutions will be part of large-scale transformative agreements, where libraries pay one fee for reading and publishing access, so there is a risk they will favour authors at the wealthier research-intensive institutions in the Global North. TAs also have the potential of replacing the big deals offered by commercial publishers which libraries are so eager to extract themselves from (and which ironically, in large part, led to the OA movement emerging in the first instance). This is because they tend to work best at scale where author output with the publisher is high and the focus is heavily on STM output.

So what can be done? Librarians can choose to retain funds to support not-for-profit organisations and to challenge the dominant model, and we see this increasingly being the case with support for humanities and social science initiatives such as the Subscribe to Open. Similarly, authors can choose to publish with university presses and society publishers where funds are reinvested in the scholarly community.

At BUP we want to be able to offer transformative agreements that foster a scholarly journal publishing system that is open and equitable but also sustainable.

We will shortly be launching a pilot Read-and-Publish offer to JISC library members in the UK with no cap on the number of OA articles that can be published when institutions subscribe to our full collection of subscription journals. We hope this is an attractive and mutually beneficial model which maintains costs for librarians while encouraging as much OA publishing as possible.

However, we realise this kind of offer will not work for the majority of libraries worldwide and that relying on it as our sole OA route will marginalise large swathes of the research community. As the Brazilian researchers in this recent article in the Times Higher Education observe, there are huge barriers to access and affordability which still need to be addressed.

Therefore, we are also exploring other models like Subscribe to Open and Transformative Journals which are likely to be much more sustainable for humanities and social science publishers. In addition, we have Green OA policies which align with funder mandates and allow for the continuation of free publishing in all our subscription-based journals with the Author Accepted Manuscript available to access.



Equitable and flexible OA Book Publishing

Our OA book publishing is thriving and books now reach even wider audiences through a growing number of hosting platforms including JSTOR, OAPEN and Project Muse. Our COVID-19 in the Global South, one of our first Rapid Response titles on the pandemic, was downloaded nearly 30,000 times in its first year and Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK has already surpassed 14,500 downloads six months after publishing. Authors choose to publish with us because of our not-for-profit status as Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, says:

“I see it as vital that health inequalities research has the widest reach possible – OA makes this possible and as a non-profit publisher, Policy Press better espouses the values of the OA movement and of the public health field.”

Quality is never compromised, with OA titles going through exactly the same processes as all our books. Working with a trusted team of copy editors and peer reviewers, we ensure high editorial standards with a rigorous two-stage peer review and highly regarded author-focused production process. Our comprehensive marketing plans and attention to discoverability ensure books reach their intended audiences.

We pride ourselves on our flexibility and can work with authors and funders to find the most appropriate models for individual titles. We have worked with Knowledge Unlatched for many years to open up more content via a library crowdfunder route and we are exploring other new innovative models for OA books especially via the global social challenges fund and in partnership with other organisations.



Other routes to inclusivity

In addition to OA publishing routes, we continue to use a range of other approaches to ensure our content can reach its intended audiences. We actively encourage and support our authors to share their work widely in ways that reach beyond straightforward OA.

The Transforming Society blog provides an opportunity to translate research into accessible posts, interviews, policy briefings, case studies and podcasts to impact change. Re-presenting the research in this way goes a step further than simply making the academic research open to all.

We also partner with Research4Life to provide read access to our Bristol University Press and Policy Press journals and eBooks to researchers around the world. Research4Life is the collective name for five programmes – Hinari, AGORA, OARE, ARDI and GOALI – that provide low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online.


Maintaining diverse and inclusive publishing means retaining diverse business models

It is our aim at BUP to make as much content open as possible, while ensuring that we can cover the necessary costs involved in a high-quality publishing operation, not to mention the all-important marketing, promotion and discoverability activities needed to ensure OA content can be found. This is a crucial balancing act and a question of ensuring publishing OA is sustainable in an uncertain funding environment.

Making sure that a range of OA publishing models with a focus on equity of access can thrive, and that not-for-profit publishers are supported, is key to achieving the goals of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.

At BUP we will continue to look for new and innovative ways to ensure our publications can reach all their relevant audiences to help bring about positive social change.


Julia Mortimer is Journals and Open Access Director at Bristol University Press.

You can view our Open Access infographic here and find out more about Open Access publishing at Bristol University Press here.



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