Scottish (and British) Unis doing a good job at making their research outputs openly available

As per the figures in the Open Access category of the recently released CWTS Leiden Ranking 2019, three Scottish Universities feature in the top 10 worldwide in terms of the percentage of its research publications indexed in the Web of Science that are available Open Access as measured via Unpaywall. This is a remarkable result considering how we rank in other categories covered by the analysis, such as research impact, collaborations (including with industry) and gender.

The number of UK institutions sitting high up in this institutional ranking by rate of openness is also truly outstanding: there are no less than 26 British institutions in the top 30. This is the result of the intensive work by institutional Open Access teams nationwide for the implementation of the Open Access policy designed by the Higher Education Funding Councils. This policy requires the deposit and open availability of the publications in the institutional systems at universities across the country in order for these publications to be eligible for research assessment purposes.

This policy design matches the recommendations made by the EU-funded PASTEUR4OA FP7 project – see Alma Swan’s slides below advocating for exactly the kind of policy that kicked-off in the UK as of Apr 1st, 2016.


It’s worth noting that none of the two Universities highlighted in Alma’s slides as best practice case studies in OA policy design is currently sitting anywhere close to the top of this CWTS ranking. This highlights the value of the network effect, whereby a national-level policy enables a kind of cross-institutional teamworking that surpasses any single-institution policy effort on the basis of the conviction of a specific institutional leader. The EC OA policy is of course another good example for the networking effect of a wide-ranging policy, and the figures for European institutions are nothing short of remarkable – they show where UK Unis would be without the HEFCE policy.

Finally, the CWTS Leiden ranking allows to drill down into the figures for a specific institution to find out how much Green, Gold and Bronze Open Access has contributed to the total score. Looking at the figures for Strathclyde Uni (which happens to be one’s institution, but the percentages are fairly similar across institutions), it’s again clear that Green Open Access – as required by the policy – provides the lion’s share of the aggregate figure.


The ranking is based on outputs published in the period 2014-2017, meaning that it covers just the first couple of years of the HEFCE policy. Any future analysis extending into 2018 is likely to yield even better figures as the implementation gets more successful (and the Open Access Scotland Group enables an ever more effective cross-institutional teamworking).

2 thoughts on “Scottish (and British) Unis doing a good job at making their research outputs openly available”

  1. Thanks for the interesting post Pablo. It’s worth noting that only institutions with at least 1000 publications in the Web of Science database across the census period are included in the CWTS Leiden Ranking. Furthermore only “core” publications are counted and collaborative publications are counted fractionally. As a result only 45 UK universities are included in the 2019 edition (and only 7 Scottish universities). The selection methodology is summarised nicely in this blog post:

    Placed in this context the results you describe in your post are even more impressive, with over 70% of UK institutions (and 85% of Scottish institutions) placed in the top 5% of the rankings. As you mention, given the 2019 rankings are based on a census period of 2014-2017 it is also likely that the percentage of OA publications amongst UK universities will increase significantly in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the REF OA policy coming into effect in 2016.

    I’d be interested to see what a true global ranking would look like, where the restriction on number of publications was removed. I suspect that UK institutions would continue to dominate the rankings, highlighting the great work being done by OA teams at institutions of all sizes across the country. Perhaps a good research project for someone with more time on their hands than me!


    1. Thanks Toby,

      There’s been a couple of private replies to the post from smaller institutions in Scotland that were not included in this CWTS ranking as per the methodological cut-off criteria you describe in your comment. However, with Unpaywall providing the (open) basis for the data on open availability, it shouldn’t be difficult for anyone interested in estimating their own percentage of Open Access outputs to independently do it. Moreover, the results could be more accurate if we chose Scopus as a basis for the analysis instead of WoS. I’ll try and share some hint on how to do this soon.

      Having had the opportunity to look into the figures for the European CESAER Open Access WG member institutions that Strathclyde currently coordinates,, one relevant and not often mentioned outcome is the synergy effect of the work we’re all doing: because of the strong cross-institutional and international co-authorship patterns, even institutions with no Open Access policy are getting base rates of 30% Open Access for their institutional outputs as a result of the good work done by their fellow Open Access teams at co-authoring institutions elsewhere. There is a clear snowball effect here that is worth highlighting, as I would expect it to also operate at a Scottish level: even research centres with small or non-existent OA teams will get good results for all their co-authorships (plus the Gold OA bit they produce on their own). This is worth further exploring too, as the ranking only covers universities (as far as I can see).


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