Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2015 and Open Access: A good news story

By guest blogger Dr Joanna Richardson, Library Strategy Advisor , Information Services, Griffith University

Funding bodies and national governments worldwide are seeking an improved return on investment for funded research. In a number of countries accountability is measured among universities by means of a research assessment exercise.  In Australia the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, which is administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC), “evaluates the quality of the research undertaken in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks”.

It is particularly pleasing to note that for the next round of ERA (2015): “Institutions are required to state whether a research output is available in an open access repository. Open access data will be used for reporting and analysis purposes only. Data will not form part of the evaluation process and will not be made available to peer reviewers or Research Evaluation Committees (RECs) (ERA 2015 Submission Guidelines, p. 9).”

In the context of the emerging global research data landscape–and Australia’s positioning within that environment, the importance of this step should not be underestimated. While it is easy to focus on “Why should we bother? It will not count”, it is much more useful to look at this in terms of some of the immediate benefits which Australian libraries have been reporting anecdotally. These include closer collaboration between the library, IT services and the Research Office.  In some institutions it has been a great door opener for a dialogue between researchers and librarians about the benefits of Open Access in general.

At a macro level, this initiative by the ARC can be viewed as part of a larger international conversation about developing the sustainability of the infrastructure and content services required to support OA and quality, replicable research outcomes. In a special themed issue of Information Standards Quarterly (ISQ) on the topic of “Open Access Infrastructure”, Liam Earney, Guest Content Editor, notes: “2013 seems to have been a watershed for open access (OA). Driven by a number of policy announcements from funding bodies and governments worldwide, the question is no longer whether open access will or should happen, but rather how will it be implemented in a sustainable way.”

In Australia the need to record open access –even though it will not be used for evaluation– in the ERA 2015 submissions is an exciting positive step for open access. It also sets the stage for future developments for open access to data from publicly funded research.

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