Open access publishing takes a step forward

The European Union (EU) appears ready in principle to endorse the European Commission’s proposals for developing open access to scientific information arising from publicly funded research. But officials say there is some way to go before a detailed system can be agreed.

Ministers from the 27 member countries, meeting as the EU’s competitiveness council, last week took a first look at the Brussels text and “supported the idea of developing broader and more rapid access to scientific publications in order to help researchers and businesses to build on the findings of publicly funded research”, said the council.

But not all EU members are as keen on the idea as the UK, and the council heard sober warnings that “open access to research data will require that various other aspects such as intellectual property rights, security issues and data protection rules be taken into account”.

The ministers nevertheless backed the commission’s proposal to make open access to scientific publications “a general principle of the future research framework programme Horizon 2020 while agreeing on a need to promote common implementation standards and criteria, including interoperable infrastructures”.

The Brussels plan was foreseen in a paper last June. It stated that from 2014 all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 would either have to be made immediately accessible by the publisher under the so-called Gold scheme, with upfront publication costs eligible for reimbursement by the commission, or be made available through an open access repository within six months (or 12 months for articles in the social sciences and humanities) of publication – the Green scheme.

Brussels called on member states to take a similar approach to research funded under their domestic programmes.

The goal was for 60% of European publicly funded research articles to be available under open access by 2016, said the commission, quoting studies showing that without speedy access to up-to-date scientific literature, it took small and medium-sized enterprises up to two years longer to bring innovative products to the market. At that time, only 25% of researchers shared their data openly.

The UK has made the running in this area following publication last year of the government-commissioned Finch report, which called on all concerned “to ensure that the widely agreed principle that all publicly funded research should be openly available can be achieved”.

The report, which was accepted in full by the government and is now being implemented, “recommended a clear policy direction in the UK towards support for Gold open access publishing, where publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, and so research articles become freely accessible to everyone immediately upon publication.”

Research Councils UK, the strategic partnership of the UK's seven research councils, which invest around £3 billion (US$4.5 billion) annually, subsequently announced a new open access policy for all research articles submitted for funding from 1 April 2013 that arose from research council funding.

The policy includes new arrangements, in the form of block grants paid to UK higher education institutions, approved independent research organisations and research council institutes to support payment of the article processing charges associated with Gold open access.

Universities and other institutions would be expected to set up and manage their own publication funds, said Research Councils UK.