Riitta Maijala

Plan S – European research funding organisations join forces to make open access mainstream

7 Sep 2018

Riitta Maijala is Vice President for Research at the Academy of Finland.


The open access movement has made tremendous progress since the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) and the Berlin Declaration (2003). Several operating models, new infrastructure and publication forums that promote open access have been created. Many funders, such as the next European research and innovation framework programme Horizon Europe and the Academy of Finland, have made open access one of their requirements.

Digital open access promotes the accessibility of research findings. High journal subscription fees, paywalls and green open access embargoes delay researchers’ access to the findings of other members of the research community. Without them, all researchers could make faster and easier use of other researchers’ publications in their own work regardless of whether they or their institution had the funds to pay for access or subscriptions. Similarly, open access would allow research articles to reach a much wider audience.

However, the progress of the open access movement does not depend on isolated initiatives or individual researchers’ choices. What is needed is a system that factors in the principles of meriting authorship, the need to uphold the quality of research, publishers’ contribution and revenue models as well as the desire to make publications that result from publicly funded research as widely available as possible, along with the new opportunities created by digitalisation.

Plan S and Science Europe

The European Commission and Science Europe have published a proposal called Plan S, which sets out a clear vision: as of 1 January 2020, all scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies must, as a rule, be published in compliant open access journals or on compliant open access platforms.

Plan S is the result of the European Commission’s cooperation with Science Europe and what is known as cOAlition S, a group of eleven national research funding organisations from countries including the UK, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Norway and Sweden.

First page of Plan S

The plan has two main objectives: making paywalled publications that result from publicly funded research accessible to everyone and implementing open access without unreasonable costs. Achieving these objectives requires an international consensus on, for example, ways to protect authors’ copyrights and common open-access licences. A limit should be agreed for unreasonable subscription fees and article processing charges (APCs) that promote open access, and hybrid open-access journals and green open access embargoes should be abolished. Instead, scientific publishers should lend their support to disseminating research findings by means of new operating models.

Although the goal is for all publications that result from research funded by public grants to support open access as of 1 January 2020, monographs and books may require a longer transition period.

Plan S is also designed to strengthen the role of research funders in promoting open access. Achieving the aforementioned objectives requires negotiations and agreements on an international level. Funding organisations would set the criteria and requirements for the services that open access journals and platforms would need to provide. In the absence of such journals or platforms, the funding organisations’ role would be to encourage their creation and support their development as necessary. One of the aims of Plan S is to prevent situations where individual researchers have to shoulder the costs of open access themselves: universities and research funding organisations would bear the expenses instead.

Open access repositories and self-archiving would still play an important role in providing a foundation for the long-term storage of research findings and editorial innovations. It would be down to funding organisations to urge universities, research organisations and libraries to change their operating models especially to ensure transparency.

Plan S and the Academy of Finland

The Academy of Finland already requires open access from all publications. Gold open access refers to publishing articles in high-quality open access journals that respect the principles of open science. The associated costs are eligible for research funding from the Academy. Implementing Plan S would involve developing a standard for APCs with the aim of making them more reasonable while agreeing pan-European criteria for identifying and promoting the creation of high-quality open access platforms.

Green open access refers to publishing articles in traditional subscription-based scientific journals and posting the same content, in a machine-readable format, to a website set up as a central open access repository. At present, the embargo period for green open access publications is usually six months, although humanities and social sciences publishers often require an embargo of twelve months. Embracing Plan S would mean that funding organisations, including the Academy of Finland, would no longer tolerate such embargoes.

The Academy of Finland also currently condones hybrid open access journals. This is an interim solution to allow for the transition to full open access. Embracing Plan S would, in practice, mean disallowing hybrid open access journals by 2020 at the latest.

Another important change would be that, as cooperation between funding organisations increases, the Academy of Finland would also commit itself to promoting actions that support open access more extensively with other European funding organisations.

The Board of the Academy is due to discuss Plan S at its meeting on 20 September. The changes that would need to be made to the Academy’s criteria to implement Plan S require careful analysis. The Board should also try to forecast how the open access movement is likely to progress if Plan S is implemented. For example, will Horizon Europe prioritise open access articles over paywalled papers in the application process? And if so, will this also apply to other national research funding organisations? If this is the direction in which the movement is heading, when and how will it begin to affect the recruitment of researchers? Would the requirement of open access also be extended to the assessment of applicants’ merits?

Another reason why open access is a hot topic this autumn is Universities Finland UNIFI’s Open Science and Data action plan, which calls for a national open access policy. We at the Academy of Finland also want to give our support to the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies and its goal of launching a system of nationally coordinated open science and research. To promote open science and research, we need common forums where a range of questions and perspectives can be explored and evaluated to identify and implement best practices.

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