Open Access in EU finally on the Horizon?

Open Access in EU finally on the Horizon?

Dis­cus­sions on the cost of access to art­icles in schol­arly journ­als have been  rock­ing the inter­na­tional media in the past months – every­where from the Eco­nom­ist to the New York Times. The pro­ver­bial genie has left the bottle, every­day more research­ers, stu­dents, and poli­cy­makers are real­iz­ing how unsus­tain­able today’s way of pub­lish­ing research has become. Com­pli­ment­ing bold ini­ti­at­ives on this issue in the UK and the USA, the EU plans to make all €80bn it will fund through 2020 openly avail­able. Neelie Kroes, European Com­mis­sioner for Digital Agenda, has recently said: “Tax­pay­ers should not have to pay twice for sci­entific research and they need seam­less access to raw data. We want to bring dis­sem­in­a­tion and exploit­a­tion of sci­entific research res­ults to the next level. Data is the new oil.”

In this art­icle, I will try to briefly out­line the prob­lem of access to journal art­icles and cur­rent devel­op­ments at the EU level for alle­vi­at­ing it. Today’s stu­dents are the largest part of the aca­demic com­munity. As the schol­ars and poli­cy­makers of the future, we should be aware of the steep bar­ri­ers many face in access­ing journ­als, and how stu­dents can work with sup­port­ive insti­tu­tions like the European Com­mis­sion to be part of the solution.

What’s the problem?

Let’s go through a short recount of how the pub­lic­a­tion pro­cess works within aca­demia. This is a simple out­line, serving more as a heur­istic than a prac­tical model.

Researcher A works at a uni­ver­sity some­where in Europe. She is paid by the uni­ver­sity, who is by exten­sion usu­ally fun­ded by tax­payer money. When there is fruit to her labour, she looks for reput­able journ­als in her schol­arly field and tries to pub­lish her art­icle. The art­icle goes through review – done by Researcher B and C, who are also uni­ver­sity staff some­where. Finally, when accep­ted, Researcher A’s work is pub­lished in the journal.

And here comes the twist. Neither Researcher A (author) or Research­ers B and C (review­ers) are paid for their work, at least not by the journal pub­lish­ers. So, the pub­lish­ers get their con­tent for free. In fact, many journ­als actu­ally charge authors fees if they go over a cer­tain num­ber of pages or would like col­our fig­ures. But that’s not all – the same pub­lisher asks uni­ver­sit­ies to pay for access to that con­tent. In this model uni­ver­sit­ies and their lib­rar­ies are double losers. They first pay for the actual research, and then when they want to access the pub­lished res­ults of that research, they have to pay – again.

Indi­vidu­als not asso­ci­ated with uni­ver­sit­ies have an even big­ger prob­lem – yearly sub­scrip­tions are usu­ally out of their reach, while charges per art­icle are quite exor­bit­ant (€30 for 24 hours of access). In the end, this means that most research ends up locked behind a pay­wall – access­ible to a select few who are part of insti­tu­tions that can pay for it. And, mind you, even the richest insti­tu­tions in the world like MIT or Har­vard cannot pay for access to all the con­tent their staff and stu­dents need.

This is just a brief out­line of the prob­lem – it has numer­ous rami­fic­a­tions on aca­demia and soci­ety at large.

The solution

The pro­posed solu­tion to this prob­lem is Open Access. Peter Suber, Dir­ector of the Har­vard Open Access Pro­jects, defines it as: “Open-access (OA) lit­er­at­ure is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copy­right and licens­ing restric­tions.” This isn’t to say pub­lish­ing schol­arly journ­als is without cost, how­ever, with the Inter­net, the sys­tem should be reima­gined to (a) min­im­ize the cost of pub­lic­a­tion and (b) move to mod­els that don’t cre­ate access bar­ri­ers by char­ging read­ers. Open Access isn’t a way to cut out rev­enue and dis­mantle the review pro­cess or copy­rights, it’s a way to remove bar­ri­ers to access.

There are two ways to make an art­icle open-access: through depos­it­ing an art­icle into a repos­it­ory like PubMed Cent­ral (some­time referred to as Green OA); or by pub­lish­ing the art­icle in an open-access journal (some­times referred to as Gold OA).

Open Access journ­als make all of their art­icles freely avail­able online imme­di­ately upon pub­lic­a­tion with full reuse rights. The num­ber of OA journ­als, con­sid­er­ing their cita­tion and impact advant­age over the pay­walled journ­als because of easier access, is con­stantly increas­ing. At the time of writ­ing, the Dir­ect­ory of Open Access Journ­als (DOAJ) lists 8263 such journ­als worldwide.

The green route accom­plishes OA through self-archiving. Authors can pub­lish their work wherever they choose (either OA or non-OA journ­als) but also deposit ver­sions of those art­icles in a repos­it­ory, which is openly access­ible. Repos­it­or­ies can be man­aged by uni­ver­sit­ies, lib­rar­ies, fund­ing agen­cies or other insti­tu­tions. Self-archiving is quite wide­spread, prac­tised and allowed by the major­ity of pub­lish­ers (see SHERPA-RoMEO for the most exhaust­ive list of pub­lisher policies on self-archiving).

Open Access in the EU?

This leads us to the tent­at­ive con­clu­sion of this intro­duc­tion to Open Access. What are the devel­op­ments on the EU level?

The European Union has recog­nized the import­ance of OA in its pre­vi­ous research fund­ing pro­ject, the Sev­enth Fund­ing Frame­work (FP7). Approx­im­ately 20% of research in this frame­work is required to be made freely avail­able within 6 to 12 months of pub­lic­a­tion. But the new next research fund­ing pro­gram, Hori­zon 2020, has the poten­tial to advance Open Access in a big way by requir­ing 100% of research be made freely avail­able within the same timeframe.

Hori­zon 2020 will fund €80 bil­lion in research grants and run from 2014 to 2020. What is revolu­tion­ary about this fund­ing frame­work is that the EU would request that all the Hori­zon 2020 research be Open Access. This not only means that more than €80 bil­lion of fun­ded research wouldn’t end up behind a pay­wall when pub­lished, but the EU would also be set­ting an import­ant pre­ced­ent for fund­ing agen­cies in Europe and around the world. It would openly state: This is how we fund research in the 21st cen­tury. Why aren’t you doing the same?

How­ever, the final draft of Hori­zon 2020 is far from set in stone. It must still pass through the European Par­lia­ment and all the pro­cesses involved in its formal cre­ation. The dis­cus­sions within the Com­mis­sion con­cern­ing the Hori­zon 2020 budget and how far it would go in its Open Access ini­ti­at­ive are ongo­ing and will involve stake­hold­ers (pub­lish­ers, open access advoc­ates, rep­res­ent­at­ives of schol­arly asso­ci­ations), both those for and against a strong open-access policy. It’s cru­cial that stu­dents get involved in the pro­cess and let the Com­mis­sion and the Par­lia­ment know access to research is cru­cial for students.

So, how can stu­dents get involved in this issue? Check out the web­site of the Right to Research Coali­tion, an inter­na­tional alli­ance of stu­dent organ­iz­a­tions rep­res­ent­ing nearly 7 mil­lion stu­dents around the world, that pro­motes Open Access to research res­ults. Their web­site will have updates and action alerts when there are oppor­tun­it­ies for stu­dents to get involved to ensure a strong open-access policy for Hori­zon 2020.

This is also the per­fect time to get involved – Open Access Week is hap­pen­ing 22nd to 28th Octo­ber and there just might be some events at the uni­ver­sity near you. Check out to see if there are any events hap­pen­ing near you!

- Ivan Flis, The European Student Think Tank

Ivan Flis is a staff writer for the European Student Think Tank‘s journal (EST). The Political Bouillon has now a cooperative outreach agreement with the EST and is proud to be sharing some of EST’s finest articles .


(Featured image: © for EST )

About the author: Guest Writer

  1. […] Discussions on the cost of access to articles in scholarly journals have been rocking the international media in the past months – everywhere from the Economist to the New York Times. The proverbial genie has left the bottle, …  […]

  2. […] Open Access journals make all of their articles freely available online immediately upon publication with full reuse rights. The number of OA journals, considering their citation and impact advantage over the paywalled journals …  […]

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