Plan S: three-year transition period for hybrid journals

Task force affirms support for green open access and says that poorer researchers should not miss out

November 27, 2018
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The architects of Europe’s push towards open-access publishing have confirmed that academics funded by participating organisations will be allowed to continue publishing in “hybrid” journals during a three-year transition period.

Once Plan S is implemented in January 2020, researchers funded by the participating organisations – so far, 13 national research agencies and three charitable foundations, including the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – would be required to make their work freely and instantly available via open-access platforms on publication.

This would, in effect, bar funded researchers from publishing in subscription journals, including, under the Plan S proposals, hybrid periodicals – subscription titles that allow papers to be made freely available in return for the payment of an article-processing charge.

Members of the Plan S coalition, including UK Research and Innovation, have maintained that hybrid journals are “not compliant” with open-access principles.

But in its response to Plan S published earlier this month, the British Academy said that it could not agree with this aspect of the plan because, in the humanities and the social sciences, “nearly all reputable journals are hybrid”.

“We cannot accept that attempting to abolish them all would contribute positively to the successful dissemination of scientific research,” the organisation said. “Nor do we believe that preventing researchers from publishing in the journals which they believe to be the most appropriate is an ethically sustainable position.”

In an announcement on 27 November, the Coalition S group confirmed that a three-year transition period on the use of hybrid journals would be implemented. Publishing in hybrid journals would be permitted providing that they were part of a ‘transformative agreement’, under which the article processing charges which are paid lead in some way to a subscription rebate.

David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England and leader of a task force on implementing Plan S, said that while the funders “did not endorse hybrid models”, they recognised that a transition period was necessary so as not to jeopardise certain disciplines and smaller publishers.

The coalition also moved to address what it regards as misunderstandings over the reach of Plan S, making a statement that green open-access models – under which a paper is published in a subscription journal but also placed in an open-access repository – were supported and encouraged, on the condition that there be no embargo on the open-access release and that a Creative Commons publishing licence be used.

On Plan S’ proposal to cap article-processing charges by open-access journals, the coalition said that it would commission a study to help determine what a reasonable maximum charge might be.

And the coalition also announced that would it would take steps to ensure that researchers from low- and middle-income countries were not priced out of publishing and academic collaborations by article-processing charges. One option would be for standard fees to include a component that allowed for the waiver or discounting of charges when required.

On timescales, the funders confirmed that there were no plans to implement the open-access mandate retrospectively. Therefore, as it can take up to two years for grant applications to be approved, the likelihood is that researchers will not face these new rules until 2021-22 or beyond.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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