European funders set 2020 deadline for open access publishing

All research funded by participating public bodies across Europe must be made freely and openly available to read and download, agency heads say

September 4, 2018
Open access
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A coalition of research funders across Europe has announced plans to enforce an open access mandate for all academic work published with the help of public financing from 2020.

Plan S, unveiled by Science Europe, is a project linked to 11 agencies, including UK Research and Innovation and funding bodies in 10 other European countries.

Under the agreement, scientists undertaking new funding contracts from participating public bodies will have to make any resulting research papers freely available to read and download immediately upon publication in open access platforms.

The initiative would in essence ban researchers working with public money from publishing in influential titles including Nature and Science, which are not yet fully open access. Publication in hybrid open access journals would also be banned, the coalition confirmed, although a transition phase would be implemented.

The move has been welcomed by sector representatives, including the UK’s Society of College, National and University Libraries (Sconul). Responding to the announcement, Ann Rossiter, executive director of the association, said that such an international shift was “essential” in order to “progress towards a shared goal of a fully open access world, where nothing is behind a paywall”.

“Without it,” she said, “progress is likely to slow or stall since allowing publishers to charge twice for the same content, through subscriptions and article processing charges, provides few incentives for them to act on their apparent commitment to open access.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England, seconded the need to counteract the financial barriers – such as article processing charges – involved with publishing open access science.

“I think everyone supports open access, including the publishers,” he said. “The detail is quite how to get there and we are saying we’re not getting there fast enough, let’s speed up the process.”

Currently in the UK, 37 per cent of scholarly outputs are published in open access journals and platforms, according to Sconul.

While hybrid models were initially proposed as a way to help the sector transition towards open access targets, Mr Sweeney said that they had been largely unproductive in the transition and had no place in the future of open access. “[They] also cost a lot of money,” he added. “Hybrid is not compliant with the plan and we will be looking at other proposals from publishers going forward.”

Researchers will be held accountable in the same way they have always been, he explained, in that they will continue to report back to funding bodies on where their work is published.

“Exact details of how we implement Plan S in the UK will depend on the [upcoming] UKRI review,” he added. “We will want to talk to stakeholder groups about how to implement this, practically speaking.”

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said the charity was “very supportive” of the plan. “We are currently finalising our new open access policy, and are working closely with the European Commission and other international funders to see how we can create a set of common principles to guide our work,” he said.

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