Electronic doctoral theses in the UK: a sector-wide survey into policies, practice and barriers to Open Access :
« Sharing knowledge and research outputs is critical to the progress of science and human development, and a central tenet of academia. The Internet itself is a product of the academic community, and opening access to that community’s most important body of research, doctoral theses, is both a logical and an inevitable development. Progress toward open access to electronic theses has been slow in the UK. Much has been written on the perceived barriers and practical/infrastructural considerations that might explain this, but a comprehensive picture of that progress, and obstacles to it, was lacking. In 2010, a survey of policy and practice in UK HEIs was conducted by UCL (University College London) Library Services (commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee, JISC) to address this very issue. Incorporating inputs from 144 institutions currently awarding doctoral degrees, the work provides the first clear and detailed picture of the status of open access to doctoral research in the UK. The mission of the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) is to promote and support the interests of graduate education, and this it does through dissemination of best practice and intelligence on emergent trends; helping to shape policy and practice for the benefit of the UK HEI sector. This report contributes to that mission by bringing to the membership’s attention the results of this important work by UCL Library Services; a collaboration between UKCGE and the authors of the original work, it sets out the policies and practices that emerged from the survey and also considers what has been learned about the perceived barriers to the implementation of open access to electronic theses.
The 2010 survey has enabled, for the first time, a differentiation to be made between barriers that are “real” and those which are unfounded and/or yet to be properly validated. At the same time, the work highlights the progress made in certain critical areas, as well as those that require our greater attention. A positive picture emerges for the UK on the adoption of the electronic thesis, with the majority of HEIs surveyed expected to be providing open access to their theses in five years’ time. A more detailed picture also emerges regarding the primary reasons for requests to restrict access to theses, some of which, notably, apply only to electronic (not print) theses. This has necessarily given rise to new policy developments. There is positive evidence also of collaboration among HEIs to provide an efficient and robust service for accessing electronic theses; pooling their resources and expertise either in the development of their institutional repositories or in operating a joint service. The key driver of open access to electronic theses is the opportunity for UK HEIs to “showcase” their research outputs to the widest possible audience and enhance their impact. There are no reliable means as yet to measure this impact, but there are encouraging early indications that electronic doctoral theses attract significant attention when made openly accessible. Open access to electronic theses may therefore indeed accelerate the sharing of knowledge and the progress of scientific discovery and human development. »