The news was significant in that it represents New Zealand’s first Government-initiated mandate to open up access to publicly funded research, a position which finally begins to bring the country into line with much of Europe, the US, and a number of major research funders in Australia.
While the move is likely to lead other key research funders in this country to follow suit, the hope is that it provides the catalyst for the development of a te Tiriti-led framework for open research for Aotearoa. MBIE’s policy, which came into effect on 1 January 2023, requires all peer-reviewed articles and conference proceedings arising from MBIE funding to be made open access. That means research which may previously have been locked behind publisher paywalls will be able to be read, shared, and built upon by the public, whose taxes have gone towards funding it.
Open access to research is not only an issue of fairness, it increases the real-world impact of research, leads to swifter innovation, brings about new collaborations and has clear benefits to society. While many tertiary librarians will be familiar with the importance of open access, this development is also relevant to those working in public, school and specialist libraries, where guiding users to sources of reliable, authoritative information often has its limitations.
This policy is a step towards reducing inequality of access. It offers two pathways for researchers to make their work open. Via open-access journals, many of which charge often excessive and somewhat arbitrary article processing charges. Or via institutional repositories, where the ‘author accepted manuscript’ (AAM) of a version published in a subscription-based (paywalled) journal can be made freely available, subject to publisher embargoes of no more than 12 months.
Repositories offer the public, practitioners, independent researchers and community groups free and often unencumbered access to large collections of theses, dissertations and unembargoed research articles.
Aotearoa’s eight universities already have policies in place designed to increase the number of AAMs made open in their repositories. Only AUT’s policy explicitly requires journal articles and conference papers to be ‘open by default’. The impact of MBIE’s funder policy, and any subsequent funder mandates which emerge as a result, may lead to tertiary institutions updating and strengthening their policies to make them consistent with the requirements of the MBIE policy.
However, it is the potential for this development to instigate a collective, nationwide approach to the formation of policies and frameworks for open research which is of unique significance for Aotearoa. Should such an opportunity be seized, its approach must be informed by and honour te Tiriti o Waitangi, and WAI 262 in particular, which addresses issues of sovereignty and autonomy of Mātauranga Māori.
The MBIE policy is an important and progressive step towards sharing the benefits of research, it is also a chance to develop strategy, behaviours and a culture which ensures the management, storage and sharing of research is te Tiriti-led, centres marginalised and indigenous voices, and reflects the distinct place of Aotearoa in the Pacific.