Repository requirements a deal-breaker for Plan S Down Under

Australian and New Zealand open access advocates want more attention paid to ‘green’ model

February 22, 2019
Source: Getty

Research funding agencies in Australia and New Zealand will not be able to support Europe’s Plan S unless rules around repositories are watered down, according to open access advocates in both countries.

A joint submission says that repository provisions in the Plan S implementation strategy are overly prescriptive and would be cripplingly expensive – and in some cases technically impossible – to implement.

“In Australia and New Zealand, university repositories are the primary mechanism by which open access is supported,” says the submission, jointly prepared by the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group and the Council of Australian University Librarians.

“Without adequate support for these kinds of institutional repositories it is unlikely that Australian funding agencies could adopt the plan, and universities would struggle to comply with its mandate.”

Plan S, which has been endorsed by many European funding agencies and is drawing increasing interest in other continents, will require academics to make publicly funded research freely accessible at the point of publication from January 2020 onwards.

While the aims of the initiative are widely supported in research circles, implementation details are causing angst. They include a perceived preference for research papers to be made available in open access journals – the “gold” model – as opposed to the “green” approach of posting articles in openly accessible repositories.

AOASG director Virginia Barbour said that some of the implementation plan’s requirements for repositories were “simply not feasible” – not only in Australasia, but right around the world.

She said that these provisions “would mean most repositories were excluded”, with only a handful – for example, the Europe PubMed Central database of health and biomedical research – able to meet the requirements.

The two groups say that most of the current criteria are unnecessary and some cannot be met by many existing repository platforms. They include requirements for an “automated manuscript ingest facility” and a programming interface that allows machines to access the content.

The submission echoes concerns that early career researchers could be severely disadvantaged by the initiative if it prevents them publishing in prestigious journals at risk of being deemed off-limits under the initiative.

It also says that the implementation plan does not specify whether responsibility for bankrolling open access lies with research institutions or funding bodies. Either option would be difficult in Australia.

Universities are reeling from the recent freezing of a funding scheme to support indirect research costs, while funding councils are already forced to reject about 85 per cent of grant applications for lack of money.

There are no immediate prospects of Australia’s research councils being given extra federal funding to meet Plan S implementation costs. The government said that it has no intention of signing up to the initiative, while the opposition will only commit to considering the idea as part of review if it wins this year’s election.

Publishers warn that premium journals could be put out of business by Plan S. But the stakes are also high for researchers in countries that do not sign up. Australian citations could plummet if the global research community can access papers from most nations immediately, but has to wait a year to read articles by Antipodeans.

CAUL president Margie Jantti said that her organisation “would be advocating for Australia to be a signatory” if its concerns were adequately addressed.

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