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Open Access theses

Kirsty31 March 2021

Among the many things that can be made Open Access; publications, data, software, and so many more, it is now increasingly more common for PhD theses to be made Open Access. This can be a great resource when you are undertaking your own PhD to get an idea of scope, structure and can be a great source of ideas.

Finding Open Access theses

UCL Library Services manages the DART-Europe service, the premier European portal for the discovery of open access research theses.  At the time of writing, this service provides access to over one million research theses from 564 Universities in 29 European countries.  It was founded in 2005 as a partnership of national and university libraries and consortia to improve global access to European research theses.  It does this by harvesting data from thesis repositories at contributing institutions, including from UCL Discovery (see below), and providing a link to at least one open access electronic copy of each thesis.  The theses themselves are located on the websites of the contributing institutions.

Users of the DART-Europe portal can search this vast database by keyword, or browse by country or institution, and view the research theses in full, without charge.  New theses are added every day, from doctoral and research masters programmes in every academic discipline.  For more information about the service, please contact the DART-Europe team.  Institutions not currently represented in the portal can view information on how to contribute to DART-Europe.

In normal times, the digitisation of doctoral theses can also be requested on an individual basis through the British Library’s e-theses online service (EThOS).  This is a database of all UK doctoral theses held in university library collections, with links to open access copies in institutional repositories, and hosted directly in EThOS, where available.  If an electronic copy is not available, you can create an account with the service to request digitisation of the print copy: this prompts the institution where the thesis is held to find and check the print thesis, and then send it to the British Library’s facility at Boston Spa for digitisation.  Please note that this process incurs a charge (which is indicated during the requesting process) and is currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Your thesis – UCL Discovery

Since the 2008-09 academic year, UCL students studying for doctoral and research master’s degrees have been required to submit an electronic copy of their thesis to the Library as a mandatory condition of the award of their degree.  Students are encouraged to make their theses openly available in UCL Discovery, our open access institutional repository, although in practice access can be restricted for a number of reasons if necessary.  A citation of the thesis appears in UCL Discovery even if access to the full text is restricted.

Older theses have also been digitised and added to UCL Discovery retrospectively.  The bulk of this work has been carried out as part of a specific project covering over 10,000 theses from 1990 to 2008.  This project is ongoing but mostly complete: over 7,000 digitised theses have been added to UCL Discovery during the last twelve months alone by Library Services staff who have not been able to carry out their normal work due to COVID-19 restrictions.

If you cannot access a UCL thesis which is listed online through these methods, please contact the Open Access Team, who will be able to provide advice on options for obtaining access.