Open Access Mandates

As interest in and support for open access grows, funders and institutions have responded by enacting their own open access policies. These polices are an important force within the larger open access movement as they encourage and sometimes require researchers to make their research publications openly available. Critics of open access mandates express concern over policies that appear to dictate where and how authors can publish and often cite academic freedom as an argument against such policies. Balancing a desire to support open access with the need to support researcher choice can be complicated for funders and institutions. As a result, the success of open access mandates is unevenly distributed across geographical regions and organizational structures.

Europe is Leading the Pack

In Europe, where funding is very centralized, there has been a concentrated effort to operationalize a broad open access policy referred to as “Plan S”. Plan S was put forward by cOALition S, a group of national research funding organisations supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council. Since its announcement in 2018, stakeholders in Europe and across the globe have shared both their support for and criticism against the project and the proposed implementation strategy. While its original objective was to reach complete open access for all funded research by 2021, the plan was pushed back a year in order to give publishers time to ensure their publications would meet Plan S requirements for authors.

Other concerns have emerged over Plan S and have been addressed by the addition of new principles. Despite these modifications, many are still worried about the consequences – both intended and unintended – that Plan S will have on the academic publishing ecosystem.

In January, 2023 cOAlition S reaffirmed an earlier commitment to discontinue support for “transformative journals” – journals that were gradually moving from from subscription to OA models – by the end of 2024. Initially conceived as a stopgap measure to grant journals necessary time to transition to OA, there was some concern that Plan S would continue to support hybrid OA models in the face of publisher pressure to do so. The 2023 announcement confirmed that cOAlition S continued to “firmly oppose” hybrid open access and would not be changing its implementation timelines.

Publishers Push Back

The impacts of Plan S are felt far beyond the European Union. European researchers publish widely across international journals and publishers alongside researchers from every part of the globe. It remains to see how these large publishers will adapt to plan S requirements and whether or not exceptions will be carved out for European researchers, or if they will completely transition to OA.

In early 2021, a group of over 50 publishers signed a statement opposing a provision on authors’ ownership rights put forward by Coalition S. In the statement, the publishers expressed concern over Plan S’s Rights Retention Strategy, under which funded authors could still publish in traditional subscription journals so long as they immediately made their article open access in a repository (via the green route to OA). Some publishers, notably Springer Nature, have so far refused to comply with this element of Plan S, making it clear to authors that they must choose a gold OA option if they want to meet Plan S obligations.

Reflection – should governments dictate how academics publish?

In April 2023, a report surfaced that a leaked document revealed the Europe’s Council of Ministers is close to releasing a position paper calling on funders to make “immediate and unrestricted open access the default mode in publishing…with no fees to authors.” Proponents of OA are excited to see the EU take such a strong position in favor of platinum OA, but critics worry about mandating OA compliance and restricting researcher choice in their publication venue

How much control should funders have over researcher publication venue? Is mandated OA a step in the right direction, or government overreach?

North America and The Nelson Memo

North America has seen a much more uneven growth of open access mandates and while many notable funders do require open access (for example: The Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationNational Institutes of HealthNational Science Foundation), many others do not.

Individual institutions also have open access policies in place, with MIT and Harvard being notable examples. The University of British Columbia does not currently have an open access policy, but did issue a position statement in 2013 in support of open access.

A comprehensive database of funder and organizational mandates from around the world can be found at ROARMAP.

On August 25, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released new guidelines on increased, expansive public access to the results of federally funded research. The guidelines, or the “Nelson Memo,” acknowledges the need to learn from the positive outcomes of the accelerated rate of sharing research due to the COVID-19 pandemic and provides instruction to national funders to update their public access policies to ensure that all peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research “are made freely available and publicly accessible by default in agency-designated repositories without any embargo or delay after publication.”

It largely remains to be seen how this Memo will impact the transition to full scale OA in the US, but it is an important signal of shifting priorities and values within the US funding and scholarly publishing landscape.

Canada’s Tri-Agency Open Access Policy

In Canada the Tri-Agencies released an open access policy on publications in 2015 which now requires all funded research published in academic journals to be made open access within 12 months of publication.

Watch the video below to learn more.

Take 5 with UBC Library – Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications, The University of British Columbia, 2018.

Dig Deeper

To learn more about the impact of open access mandates, Review: Larivière, Vincent and Cassidy R. Sugimoto (2018). Do authors comply when funders enforce open access to research?

Image Credit: Plan S by European Science Foundation. CC-BY 4.0.