New coalition of European funders join together to place unprecedented mandate on researchers to publish OA

5th September 2018News, Open Access

This week, a promising new initiative aimed at greatly accelerating the migration to a fully Open Access research environment in Europe was announced: Plan S. Backed by 11 national funding organisations joined together in the guise of cOAlition S, and with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council, the Plan has as its goal to see all research funded by participating funding organisations being published via OA compliant journals or platforms by 2020.

“Research funders will mandate that access to research publications that are generated through research grants that they allocate, must be fully and immediately open and cannot be monetized in any way,” said Science Europe President, Marc Schiltz, in a statement about the coalition and Plan.

A funder-driven mandate of this scope and scale is a first; and is very good news for OA.

SPARC Europe supports cOAlition S and Plan S, and is actively working on ways to aid their success.

“Research funding organisation are the life-blood of research and innovation; they are uniquely positioned to influence and fundamentally shift publishing practices in Europe and in-turn maximise the impact of European research,” said SPARC Europe Director, Vanessa Proudman. “We are very encouraged to see key funders joining together in this co-ordinated, concerted way; speaking out in no uncertain terms saying enough is enough — to make the full transition to OA, bold decisions need to be made.”

The foundational document, Plan S, was jointly developed by Science Europe, a group of heads of national research funding organisations, and Robert-Jan Smits, Senior Advisor on Open Access within the European Political Strategy Centre at the European Commission (EC) with input from the European Research Council. The Plan is defined by “one target and 10 principles”; with the  core target centring on the goal of making all research being funded by coalition members, fully Open by 2020, and the 10 principles drilling into some of the specifics of the mandate — from author rights to publication fees to the role of open archives and repositories.

Specifically, the intent of Plan S is to accelerate efforts aimed at modernizing the way research is both published and paid for. At the same time, the Plan recognizes the importance of supportive infrastructure while also encouraging Open Access policy alignment to strengthen regional, national and international-level efforts to advance OA.

This move by funders is a recognition of their responsibility to not only fund the research itself, but to also ensure that it has the greatest possible impact; this involves a duty of care to the academic research system as a whole – and encompasses the details of research dissemination as well as the need to to ensure the smart and fair use of public funds. A likely result among researchers will be a higher degree of engagement on issues including where they publish and why they are locking their work behind paywalls.

While at present, 11 national funding organisations from across Europe have signed on to cOAlition S; the expectation is that this number will continue to grow.

“By committing to this new mandate, these funders are not only jointly speaking out against the current scholarly research communications system, but they are also recognising that this system has a tight grip on the current reward system, which is largely influenced by tenuous impact factors,” said Proudman; “factors that are often tied to material behind paywalls.” The plan and its preamble specifically mentions using the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) as a starting point to discover how research may be assessed in new and different ways.

While SPARC Europe thoroughly welcomes this new mandate by funders, a number of challenges remain if we are to see the 2020 goal met, primarily the multiple, varied details related to implementation. However, these are challenges many in the community, including SPARC Europe, are already committing to meet.

A Collection of Reaction Statements from SPARC Europe’s Vanessa Proudman on Plan S:

As it relates to the implementation of OA Policy
Funder, research organisation and library OA policies and strategies will become more aligned. This will consistently help speed up access to open research if bars are set that are reasonably high but pragmatic and that take the range of European contexts into account. The principles of Plan S are also likely to feed into national policies or action plans. Unified policies across institutions will also make OA publishing easier to comply with for the researcher who might work at a range of institutions.

As it relates to copyright and licensing
Plan S will change the way that authors transfer copyright to publishers since they or their institutions will retain their copyright with no restrictions. Publishers will no longer be able to consistently make copyright transfer a condition of being published. This will allow researchers to share their research more openly, thereby increasing citations, and will provide access to research publications for all those in need of access to research from science and society regardless of their financial standing.

Furthermore, material should preferably be licensed with the CC BY Creative Commons License which allows users to distribute, remix and build upon work as long as the author is credited. This will add additional value to the scholarly work.

As it relates to academic publishers
We are highly likely to see publishers change their business models to comply with these principles. Publishers will no longer be able to charge authors exploitative rates to make their work open access, which should result in greater equity. OA publishing charges will be controlled and capped across Europe. S Plan funders will also no longer accept publications from hybrid journals. Hybrid publishing will therefore become a thing of the past with no more double-dipping.

This critique of publishing costs is consistent with efforts that libraries are undertaking to negotiate fair prices for access to read, and publish, OA. Funders and libraries are uniting against the high costs of access to research results that are being controlled by a largely highly profitable publishing industry where profits are paramount. And funders are now formally speaking out against this state of affairs.

These principles are certain to advance change in the way we publish articles; a key next step will be a boost to help hasten the transition of books and monographs to OA.

On the issue of OA infrastructure:
Plan S formally acknowledges the need to fund Open Access infrastructure to support the implementation of OA policy. This reinforces the work of SCOSS and others who are investing in open infrastructure. In addition to libraries, funders now explicitly express their commitment to this cause. In so doing, they help guarantee quality standards for Open Access publishing through their plan to support initiatives like DOAJ or DOABRepositories are also mentioned as contributing to the innovation of the publishing process by providing essential infrastructure. However, repositories are not mentioned specifically as valuable vehicles for OA deposit/publishing. And yet when Open Access platforms are specified as publishing venues, it is unclear if the reference is to repositories or funder open research platforms, for example. Providing greater clarity about the importance and breadth of the role of repositories in the implementation process will be important.  

On complying with these principles:
Researchers will be required to comply, ensuring their work is available via an Open Access mode immediately. Funders will monitor compliance and they will sanction non-compliance, which has been done by few funders to date. What this actually looks like in practice will greatly influence the uptake of these policies.

On potential challenges we will need to navigate:

On ensuring that less affluent nations can publish
When using an article processing payment model, we need to be mindful of how researchers from less affluent nations will be able to publish Open Access. Although all nations will in effect have access to research, all should similarly have the right to publish. Implementation of Plan S should provide sufficient flexibility in compliance mechanisms to ensure that richer European countries are not unfairly advantaged in the publishing process.

On implementing the goal and the 10 principles
The 2020 deadline is a close one and seeing that the strong demands result in the intended change will be a challenge for all involved. cOAlition S will flesh out the details on how to implement its goal and principles. The Open Science Policy Platform, and advocacy organisations such as SPARC Europe, can provide support.  The coalition will also need to address the costs of implementation and having the funding to implement these plans will be essential to achieve the goal. A further important success factor in implementing the plan across Europe is increasing funder representation. Keyfunders are taking a collective stand here, together with Science Europe, which is an essential step towards the expansion of OA. However, the more heavyweight funders that adopt this goal and these principles from all parts of Europe, the less opposition, the greater the uptake, the more clarity for researchers and the faster we reach the goal. Now is the time for consolidated action across Europe.

SPARC Europe will support Plan S by :

  • Lobbying for a copyright reform that supports Open Access in Europe
    SPARC Europe has been leading a coalition of research and library organisations in Europe for just over a year now tirelessly campaigning for a fairer copyright reform across Europe that protects access to open publications. As of September 2018, the work is ongoing as deliberations over the new legislation are still underway. The work is not yet done.
  • Simplifying copyright and licensing for librarians and researchers
    As part of our 2018 Work Plan, SPARC Europe had already established plans to raise awareness of author rights and the opportunities of licensing research amongst researchers. The Plan S policy principle related to copyright and licensing makes this work timely and will support its implementation.
  • Highlighting the rewards and incentives amongst funders for more Open Science in Europe
    A research project scheduled to begin this autumn will provide insights intended to help inspire national funders to encourage researchers to share their research more openly, by increasing rewards and incentives. The initiative is being carried out in consultation with Science Europe – the initiators of Plan S.
  • Facilitating the funding of Open Access / Science infrastructure
    SCOSS is changing the way that Open Science advocates and users are thinking about paying for, or rather investing in Open Science infrastructure. SCOSS is currently encouraging the collective funding of DOAJ for example to help ensure strong quality in OA publications. Funders have spoken out that they will support such services, and we look forward to talking to cOAlition S about how they can do so by using the SCOSS model.