A group of 11 European funding bodies known as Coalition S has pledged to ensure all the scientific research they support is published in ‘full, immediate’ open access journals by 2020.
The coalition and its plan – Plan S – were put together by the organisation Science Europe and the European commission’s open access envoy Robert-Jan Smits, the former director-general of research and innovation at the commission. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is among the funders to join, along with research councils in 10 other countries including Ireland, Austria and Sweden.
‘We feel that a decisive move towards the realisation of open access and the complete elimination of publication paywalls in science should be taken now,’ Science Europe’s president Marc Schiltz wrote in the preamble announcing Coalition S. He states that although the transition to fully open access publishing in science has been discussed for some years, overall progress has been slow. Under Plan S, Schiltz says, ‘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 monetised in any way’.
Crucially, publishing in ‘hybrid’ journals, which still require a subscription but can make individual papers available to read for a charge, or after a certain period has elapsed, will no longer be acceptable. Big names such as Nature and Science fall into this category, along with journals from major publishers such as Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley.
Coalition S does say that for a transition period that would be ‘as short as possible’ funders may tolerate publication in hybrid journals with ‘transformative’ agreements in place, where subscription fees can be offset against any article processing charges. It also says the amount of money provided by funders for article processing charges – applied by some publishers under existing open access models – would be capped, but hasn’t stated how much this will be yet.
Open science advocates have welcomed the announcement. ‘The move to full open access was stalling, and this plan is a major step forward in the right direction,’ said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities in a statement.
The commissioner for research, science and innovation, Carlos Moedas, has also expressed support for Plan S, although it is unclear whether it will apply to all research funded through the next European research funding programme, Horizon Europe.
Publishers operating traditional subscription-based or hybrid models, however, have expressed concerns. The International Association of STM Publishers, a trade body which represents scientific, technical and medical publishers, says it supports a transition to open access but that ‘caution’ was needed to avoid placing limitations on academics.
‘It is vital that researchers have the freedom to publish in the publication outlet of their choice,’ the organisation said. ‘Shutting down this [hybrid] publication option for authors, especially where it contributes significantly to the transition to open access is not the answer and may lead to authors who do not have access to outside funding not being able to immediately publish their work.’
It also warned capping article processing charges would ‘restrict choice’ among authors and argued that without adequate funding to support publishers the transition envisaged in Plan S was ‘unlikely to happen in practice’.
The Royal Society of Chemistry, which publishes Chemistry World, is among those offering hybrid open access models. Its director of publishing Emma Wilson says: ‘We are supportive of STM’s statement on Plan S and will continue to work with our community and other stakeholders in shaping our approach to open access publishing. We welcome the acknowledgement that hybrid journals are compliant when they are part of a “transformative” type of agreement, where subscription fees are offset against publication fees and these deals contribute to accelerate the transition to full open access. Our read & publish model is at the forefront of these transformative models.’