Open Access and your thesis on KAR

An exploration of the risks and benefits around making your thesis open access - how to minimize the former and maximize the latter

  Unspalsh: "slava-bowman-161209-unsplash" by Slava Bowman. CC0

At last! Its the end of your post-graduate study at the University of Kent and you need to deposit a digital copy of your thesis to the University of Kent Academic Repository (KAR).  If your research is funded by a UK Research Council grant then it is a condition that your thesis is recorded in KAR. All theses at Kent must be deposited on KAR to ensure it is recorded and preserved alongside the research publications of our staff and students.  It will also ensure it is indexed by the British Library on its e-thesis service EThOS the DART-Europe E-theses portal and findable by search engines like Google Scholar.

When you make the deposit you also have the opportunity to make your thesis available on an Open Access basis on the KAR platform.   Also, the UKRI terms and conditions of training grants, states “a full-text version should be available within a maximum of 12 months following award”

Why should I make my thesis open access?

United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), the umbrella body for research in the UK, supports the principles of open access and in 2018 helped launch cOALition S.  Through Plan S this initiative aims for all publications from funded projects to be available on an open access basis by 2020.  Participation in cOALition S continues UK government commitment to open access as a beneficial principle expressed through the REF Open access mandate and the RCUK commitment of funds through the Block Grant designed to promote immediate and full open access for publications as early as possible.  This builds on academic knowledge of the benefits of unrestricted and free access to the results of research since the Budapest Initiative in 2002. These benefits include:

  • Exposure – In the past print copies of these were available to scholars who travelled to the University library where they were held, and read them while they were there.  Online open access to your thesis means that anyone anywhere can see, read and cite the work within days of confirmation of the award, while the research is still fresh and new.
  • Citation – This means that your work can contribute to new research immediately, collecting citations, and putting your research to work for you building your research profile.
  • Opportunities – In turn, this will attract collaborators and opportunities for new funding.

Why make it open on KAR?

You could upload your thesis to your own web page or make it available via one of the social media sites like Research Gate or LinkedIn, however, making it open access on KAR brings more benefits:

  • Authority – KAR is the institutional repository of the University and as such carries assurance that the work has been awarded the degree claimed and the document represents the Version of Record.
  • Security – KAR is a stable repository part of a national UK HEI network and supported by the University’s IT department and benefits from the institutional back-up and information security measures.
  • Governance – KAR’s processes and coding are in line with international standards. KAR’s strong metadata schema is compatible with  EThOS and means your work will be found and accurately cited.
  • Protection – from rogue publishers offering to publish your thesis on dodgy platforms for a fee.  KAR is safe, secure, well governed and free!

With a stable URL and knowledge that your thesis will always be findable and accessible and compliant, you can enjoy peace of mind while you move on in your career.

But what if…?

Making work openly available can cause authors to be nervous.  These fears are understandable but using KAR and following University of Kent guidance will allay them.

  • Plagiarism – A common concern is that having a thesis available on an online open access platform will make it vulnerable to plagiarism as others will be able to copy and paste sections and download and reproduce the whole document.  However, having your work in plain view with a date-stamp, clear attribution and institutional authority makes it much easier to assert authorship and serves as a deterrent to would-be plagiarisers.  KAR is available to Turnitin, and other plagiarism detection software used by universities and publishers, to check and detect if others have stolen your work before they can benefit from it.  It is far easier to plagiarise a print document in an inaccessible University library basement, than one that is out and open on the internet.
  • “Tortious interference” –  Some scholars worry that others will read their thesis or the accompanying data, and develop the work into further projects or journal articles before the original author can, thus interfering with their ability to fulfil publishing contracts or collaborative agreements.  This fear leads them to want to keep their work secret and not share with anyone, which in turn can harm the development of their academic profile. Again, the presence of the authoritative record in the scholarly record with clear attribution makes this unlikely, if not impossible.  It is far more likely that interested scholars will be in touch to involve you in the development of the ideas in your thesis, and at the very least they will cite your work.
  • Self-plagiarism – if you have been publishing journal articles based on your research during your studies, either as sole author or as a contributor, you may be worried that making your thesis open access may compromise any agreements you have made with your publishers or colleagues.  However, while it is likely that you will be basing your thesis on the same underlying data as the previous articles it is unlikely that the content will be exactly the same.  The focus of any articles will be different from the thesis as the purpose is completely different.  However, if you are concerned about this it would be a good idea to ask your publisher and ensure that your agreement with them enables you to use your work in your thesis.  you should tell them that your thesis will be available on an open access basis.
  • Prepublication – Similarly, if you want to publish your thesis as a book, or parts of it as articles or chapters, after submission, the work will require a substantial rewrite to make it suitable for publication.  It is more realistic to consider your thesis as one work amongst many that are derived from your research. This is the prevailing view among publishers. Because of the substantial alteration required in preparing a thesis to make it suitable for formal publication, there is no commercial disadvantage in the original thesis being already available on an open access basis.  In fact, many of the largest publishers do not view open access to thesis on institutional repositories like KAR as a bar to publishing articles from the same research. Elsevier states that “Elsevier does not view publication as an academic thesis as prior publication.”  The findings from these two studies may be of interest “Do Open Access electronic theses and dissertations diminish publishing opportunities in the sciences?” (Ramirez et al 2014) and “Do Open Access electronic theses and dissertations diminish publishing opportunities in the social sciences and humanities?” (Ramirez et al 2013)

There is a collation of publisher statements regarding pre-publication and open access theses.  This document has been created and contributed to by librarians from UK HEIs.

That’s OK then, but what do I need to think about?

Theses have generally been considered “unpublished” documents, however, if you make them available on an open access repository you will need to take some of the same precautions that you do when preparing work for publication as a journal article or book.  These include:

  • 3rd party copyright – Ensure that you have permission to use any third party copyright material.  These include images, maps, tools and tables.  Mention when you ask that your work will be available on an open access basis on KAR and also ask for permission to include the material in the open version.  You may need to redact some third party copyright material and replace it with a reference or link.
  • Confidential material and GDPR – If your thesis contains material that is subject to commercial confidentiality, or if it uses data that includes personal information about participants in your research, you will also need to restrict access.  You could redact parts of the thesis, anonymise the data used or place an embargo period on access to the thesis, so open access is not available.
  • Creative Commons – Assigning a licence to your work tells users how they can use the content and what they should do.  The most usual schema for licensing open access works is Creative Commons which was established by a group of academics, lawyers and IT developers to enable creators and owners of copyright to make their work available for free on the internet without sacrificing control over its use. Creative Commons licences are presented in a set format and allow rights to be defined in a progressively restrictive format so the owner can make their wishes clear with resorting to long legal documents. Some funders require a minimum amount of freedom and ask for a CC-BY licence and most authorities regard this as the minimum licence that enables a work to be considered truly open access.
  • Exclusive use – If you want to restrict access to your thesis for a short while because you would prefer exclusive use of the content to prepare it for publication, you can place a 1 or 3-year embargo.  The choice of length depends on whether you are publishing in a book or journal or on your discipline.  There is the risk that while your work is inaccessible it will be superseded, and during that time it will not be working for you.  if your work contains personal data that cannot be redacted or concerns research that relates to national security you can also request that it has a permanent embargo.
  • Data – Open access to research data is also becoming a funder requirement.  If you have datasets or supplementary materials associated with your research that you would like to be preserved or disseminated we can archive these on a similar system to KAR.  The Kent Data Repository is a secure archive for your data and we can issue your files a DOI (Digitial Object Identifier) to ensure it is cited and locatable with a secure and permanent URL.

How is KAR getting (even) better for theses?

Over the next few months we have a programme of development to improve the way we record and archive theses:

  • we are developing a set of metadata which will allow us to fully relate theses with related article records in KAR and with data records in KDR as well as external resources such as websites.
  • we will be assigning DOIs to theses, allowing them the same benefits as those enjoyed by publications and data.
  • We are planning to digitize and make available the substantial thesis collection at the Templeman Library.  This is a complex project which requires attention to detail and rigour, not least in ensuring we have addressed copyright and licence questions appropriately.  Soon we hope to be able to offer scholars who submitted their theses before 2008.

If you would like more information about depositing your theses on KAR, your data on KDR or making your work open access, take a look at our website https://www.kent.ac.uk/library/research/index.html  or contact us at ResearchSupport@kent.ac.uk for more information or to contribute a comment

Image credit: Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

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