More awareness of open access needed as Japan deadline looms

Survey indicates that researchers are poorly prepared for upcoming shift to free-to-read model

May 17, 2024
A man looking for books at a book store in a curtain  in the Jinbocho area in Tokyo to illustrate More awareness of open access needed as Japan deadline looms
Source: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP / Getty Images

Japanese policymakers must ensure academics understand the purpose of open science and provide financial help to support the transition to open access research, according to scholars. 

The Japanese government has mandated that any nationally funded research must be published in open access journals by 2025. But, as the deadline draws closer, a new survey suggests researchers are unprepared for the shift. 

In a survey of approximately 1,500 researchers, published by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, 60 per cent said they were unaware of or unclear about the new policy. In addition, 30 per cent of management-level officials from universities and research institutes surveyed said the same. 

The survey was conducted in the second half of 2023, as the new policy was being considered and then agreed by the government, following prolonged efforts by Japanese policymakers to promote open science

“There is a need to raise researchers’ awareness of policy changes and international trends in open science, which may also lead to researchers thinking more proactively about open science,” said Kazuki Ide, an associate professor at Osaka University, whose research has focused on academic publishing. 

In the country’s 2023 innovation strategy, policymakers said that creating an environment “in which researchers can freely and widely publish and share their research outputs and the public can widely access their intellectual assets” was important to enhancing Japan’s competitiveness. 

However, little information has been shared to date by the Japanese government about the details of the new policy, leaving researchers concerned about the transition to open access publishing, with the cost being one of the main concerns. 

In March, the Japanese government established a fund to which institutions can apply for support in implementing university-wide open access, but the government itself has previously acknowledged the problem that rising article processing charges (APCs) pose. 

“APCs are expensive to publish in open access journals that are highly regarded,” said Toshihiro Ashino, a professor at Toyo University and an executive on the International Science Council’s data committee.

“In Japan, competitive funding has become more important in research budgets in recent years, and the amount of recurring funds granted to laboratories is on a downward trend,” he said. “Even if competitive funds are obtained, if they are small, the APC may squeeze the real research funds.”

In the survey, researchers suggested a number of measures to help the transition, with the most popular including the establishment of an APC subsidy system, a national platform for publishing open access papers, the development of institutional repositories and negotiations with publishers. As of March 2023, 844 institutional repositories had been established in Japan. 

“Regarding papers, it might be worthwhile to reconsider actively utilising domestic academic journals and platforms,” Professor Ide suggested as a way of addressing publication costs. 

Professor Ashino agreed. “There are only a few leading open access journal publishers in Japan, and some fear that a significant portion of public research funds will go to foreign commercial companies,” he said.

“Personally, I believe that Japan should consider not only budgetary measures but also a way of evaluating research performance that is appropriate for the era of open science, open access and open data in the future.”

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