Scientists at work

Publicly funded scientific research to be made open access

The government will make publicly funded scientific research available for free online, it has announced.

By 2014, all academic papers describing studies that have been funded by the taxpayer will be immediately available to read online.

The move has been described as the most radical shake-up of academic publishing since the invention of the internet.

It comes amid protests that journal publishers are making large profits by locking research behind online paywalls.

Universities and science minister David Willetts said there would be "massive" economic benefits to making research open to everyone.

"If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn't be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it," he said in an interview with the Guardian.

"This will take time to build up, but within a couple of years we should see this fully feeding through."

British universities, businesses and residents will have free access to the research wherever they are in the world and be able to use it for any purpose they wish.

Universities currently pay around £200m a year in subscription fees to journal publishers, according to the newspaper.

Under the new scheme, authors will pay "article processing charges" (APCs) of around £2,000 to have their papers peer reviewed, edited and made freely available online.

Many academics and scientists have welcomed the announcement, but concerns have been raised that the transition, which could reportedly reach £50m a year, will be funded through the existing science budget.

"There is a transitional cost to go through, but it's overall of benefit to our research community and there's general acceptance it's the right thing to do," said Willetts.

"We accept that some of this cost will fall on the ring-fenced science budget, which is £4.6bn.

"The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded.

"I think there's a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget."

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