Late reprieve allows scientists with UK grants to publish in Nature

Temporary deal arrives on day of UK’s new open access policy, but raises issue of paying high price for ‘ego trip’ of Nature publication

April 8, 2022
Two people shake hands to illustrate Late reprieve allows scientists with UK grants to publish in Nature
Source: Getty

Academics supported by UK research council grants will not be barred from using public money to publish in Nature after a last-minute deal was struck to allow them to publish open access in the prestigious title.

From this month, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will only allow its funding to pay for open access publishing in titles that meet its definition of being a “transformative journal”. While Nature owner Springer Nature has committed to transitioning the majority of its imprints to open access, Nature and several other titles did not meet UKRI’s definition of transformative journals and were excluded from a Jisc-approved list of journals.

After months of uncertainty about whether Nature would be off-limits to thousands of UK researchers, who would have needed to source other non-UKRI funds to finance publication fees, the situation has finally been resolved after a temporary deal was announced on the day that UKRI’s new open access policy took effect.

In a statement sent to universities on 1 April, Nick Campbell, vice-president (academic affairs) at Nature Portfolio and Springer Nature, said that he wanted to make it “clear that publishing OA in any Nature journal is compliant with the new UKRI OA policy”.

“The policy applies to submissions from today and the interim measure we’ve agreed with Jisc means that any relevant paper that your researchers publish in these journals can use UKRI OA funds to pay the APC [article processing charge].”

Nature announced that it would charge authors £8,290 (€9,500 or $11,390) to make their work free to read.

Dr Campbell added that the temporary deal would last for the remainder of 2022 and that Springer Nature expects “that a transformative agreement with Jisc will be in place from January 2023, which will replace the interim measure that we’ve agreed”.

The short-term deal is likely to focus attention on how far Springer Nature may be willing to lower its Nature APC in any future deal or whether UK researchers are willing to accept not publishing in Nature – one of the world’s most highly cited and prestigious science titles.

David Price, vice-provost (research) at UCL, said he was “not concerned at all” that UK researchers might not feature in Nature. “Publishing in Nature is an ego trip for a lot of researchers – I’ve published myself before but it’s a very idiosyncratic journal and publishing in it isn’t a guarantee of quality,” he added.

The current Nature APC is “unforgivable”, continued Professor Price, who said he believed that Springer Nature would “fall into line” on the issue of costs in open access.

In a statement, Springer Nature said it “shares UKRI and Jisc’s goals of enabling a full transition to immediate OA for primary research”.

The “lack of a formally agreed funding mechanism” for Nature and other titles had been “concerning for potential authors and so, in recognition of our desire to put in place a transformative agreement with UK institutions, Springer Nature will guarantee a compliant route to publication for UKRI-funded corresponding authors submitting to these titles from 1st April until 31st December 2022, enabling us to register them as Jisc-approved transformative journals," it added.

“As a result, these authors will be able to publish in compliance with UKRI policy and may even use available funds if desired to make the final published version immediately available."

In practice, it would mean that "for submissions made during this period, UKRI funded corresponding authors will be able to self-archive their accepted manuscript in line with UKRI OA policy," it added, which alllowed Nature and other titles to "meet the JISC requirements for transformative journals" and that  "authors will also be able to access UKRI funds to support the APC to publish the [gold] OA."

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Reader's comments (6)

I think it might be worthwhile to point out that none of the Springer Nature journals in question - Nature, the Nature research journals and the Palgrave journals, are present in the Jisc SHERPA Transformative Journals list at present. It is my understanding that discussions between Springer and Jisc are still ongoing, so it's difficult to see how Springer can guarantee compliance with the new UKRI OA policy at the moment.
IMO - losing the ability to publish in Nature would do science absolutely no harm whatsoever. The science is the same wherever it is published and will in fact probably benefit from not having been oversold and cut-to-the-bone in the manner reqd for appearance in Nature. My feeling from attending discussions about publishing (eg Wellcome Investigator meetings) is that younger scientists have no attachment whatsoever to the luxury journals. The only reason they might want to publish in them is because of the implications for career progression - and this is the link that needs to be broken if we are to move to a more sane publishing model.
I could not agree more!
Work with your professional societies to setup top quality journals and publish there. They are much more responsive and not motivated by a profit motive,therefor author fees for open access is lower.
Everything I've ever read in Nature has turned out to be overblown nonsense anyway so I would much prefer it if UKRI had stuck two fingers up to Springer Nature and insisted that researchers paid out of the public purse publish somewhere else.
As UKRI said on the 8th on Twitter: Hello, UKRI is aware that Springer Nature and Jisc are in discussions about Nature, Nature research and Palgrave journal titles becoming Jisc -approved transformative journals, and by way of which, being eligible for the use of UKRI funding to publish open access. To meet the required criteria the sector have set to be Jisc - approved transformative journals, the titles will need to allow UKRI authors to comply with the policy via immediate open access deposit of the authors accepted manuscript in a repository Currently these journals have not been accepted as transformative journals so currently they remain, as hybrid titles, ineligible for UKRI OA funds And as JISC also said on the 8th: As of 8 April, Springer Nature has not submitted an application to register these titles as Jisc approved transformative journals nor demonstrated how they will meet the sector’s requirements for TJs. This means that the publication charges of up to €9500 are not currently eligible to be supported using UKRI’s open access funds. Whilst negotiations for a transitional agreement are ongoing, we hope to secure an arrangement for these titles that provides a compliant route for UKRI funded authors, but which does not compel an author or an institution to pay publication charges.