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Another step on the path towards open access

Education International has answered a call for consultation on open access of research, stressing that the public good is served by the widest and most accessible dissemination of scholarly work and educational material.

 

Following the suggestions of affiliates at the Education International (EI) 11th Further and Higher Education and Research Conference held in Taipei, Taiwan, from 12-14 November 2018, EI answered on 8 February the feedback consultation by cOAlition S, a consortium launched by the European Research Council and major national research agencies and funders from thirteen European countries.

The consortium had called for guidance on the implementation of Plan S, its initiative for open access science publishing launched on 4 September 2018. The plan requires scientists and researchers who benefit from state-funded research organisations and institutions to publish their work in open repositories or in journals that are available to all by 2020.

While EI shares the goals of the widest and most accessible dissemination of scholarly work, it suggested not to place the goal of immediate full access over quality. The 2020 deadline might be too narrow and it would be important that enough time is given to ensure the development of Plan S compliant open access venues and /or journals within every field of discipline. This is crucial for both dissemination of knowledge and researchers’ careers given that recent research shows that as much as 80% of journals are not Plan S compliant, EI stressed.

While flipping existing journals and establishing high quality editorial support will require time and resources. EI would especially welcome if Plan S could specify further how to ensure the quality of research, including the quality assurance mechanism to be put in place.

It also emphasised the need to ensure a sustainable and fair financing of Plan S, promoting rather than impeding international research collaboration and equity of research publication is of crucial importance.

Ensuring the widest and most accessible dissemination of scholarly works and education materials

EI recalled that it is a strong supporter of open access as a way to ensure the widest and most accessible dissemination of scholarly works and education materials, therefore standing behind the principal aims of Plan S.

A recent EI commissioned study Democratising Knowledge: a report on the scholarly publisher Elsevier in particular examined Elsevier’s business practices in detail as one of the largest and most powerful scholarly publishers. As the report describes it, Elsevier’s business model consists essentially of the following: researchers provide their work for free, along with their copyright to that work, through the peer review system other academics review that work, typically for free: and then Elsevier sell the content back to higher education and research institutes, governments and others, those that funded the research in the first place. As highlighted in the study, this business model has resulted in the “publish or perish culture” within academia where the venue of publication typically matters more than the content itself.

As a consequence of that current practice, in EI’s views, Plan S needs to tackle the issue of research evaluation and in particular reform the current system. Open access scholarship must be fully recognised as criteria for renewal, tenure and promotion, otherwise Plan S could put especially young researchers whose careers in the current system are still dependant on publishing in journals with high impact factors as a means to build their careers at risk.

Concerns for academic freedom

When it comes to academic freedom, EI believes that Plan S in its current form might have some unintended consequences for the values and principles of academic freedom. Accordingly, Plan S should accommodate the right of the authors to choose how and where their research is disseminated. One interesting option for Plan S to consider is to look at the Harvard model of open access, which applies to all academic staff who publish works and applies automatically and immediately to any work created by an academic staff person related to their employment. This model includes an opt-out option: it automatically makes publications available on the institution’s open access repository, unless an author opts out. Finally, it is a non-exclusive licence, meaning that it would not inhibit the author from publishing elsewhere and finally it does not take away copyright from the author. The experience of using the model shows that the opt-out option is very rarely used, but it ensures that the academic freedom concerns are mitigated by the optional opt-out provision.

Establishing a fair and reasonable article processing charges level

EI finally welcomed the intentions of Plan S to work towards establishing a fair and reasonable article processing charges (APC) level, including the commissioning of an independent study on open access publication costs and fees. It suggested to work towards reducing APCs as much as possible and eventually eliminating them, as it strongly believes that researchers should have the same opportunity to publish their research regardless of their or their institutions’ ability to pay for publication.

Background

Under Plan S, researchers working with public money from funders that have signed up to the scheme’s policies will effectively be banned from publishing in dozens of top journals on the basis that they do not offer the option of free, immediate access to the papers that they publish.

Advocates say that the rules may be harsh but that they are necessary if funders and publishers are going to start taking open access principles seriously. Campaigners indeed have been pushing open access for 30 years, but relatively little progress has been made in that time, as common estimates are that about 30 per cent of the world’s journals are open access.

The Policy Statement on Open Access adopted at the EI 10th Further and Higher Education and Research Conference held in Ghana in November 2016, and calling on EI’s further and higher education and research affiliates to promote open access, can be downloaded here