Project to waive fees for about 400 open-access journals

Academics in 5,000 institutions in 107 low- and medium-income countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, North and South America and Europe, will benefit from the Cambridge Open Equity Initiative, a pilot project that will allow them to publish their research in about 400 open-access journals that are owned by the Cambridge University Press (CUP) – at no cost to them.

According to Mandy Hill, the managing director of academic publishing at CUP, the initiative will operate from 1 July 2023 to the end of 2024 with the aim of eradicating barriers that affect academic authors in developing countries who want their research to be visible globally.

In this case, authors will be automatically recognised as eligible for open-access publishing once their paper has been accepted. Authors will also be able to submit their papers to all of the CUP gold and hybrid journals at no direct cost to them or their institutions.

According to a Cambridge University Press briefing, original research, including research articles, review articles, rapid communications, brief reports and case reports will be eligible.

What this means is that CUP will automatically recognise eligibility of corresponding authors when a paper is accepted. The publisher will also remove fees for independent scholars from those low- and middle-income countries, using a simple form.

“We want to publish the best research, wherever it comes from,” said Hill in a briefing issued in April.

She argued that, as open-access publishing shifts costs from readers to authors, there is a need to guard against unintended consequences such as the unequal global higher education systems.

“We believe that journals must publish articles based on the quality of the work rather than the authors’ ability to pay,” said Hill.

Institutional partners

But for the project to succeed, CUP is seeking support from institutional partners, such as major university libraries, to make it more sustainable.

Institutional customers such as universities will join Cambridge University Press in making voluntary contributions to the initiative to support authors in lower-income countries where research funding is scarce.

The funds raised will be a publisher-library collaboration, recognising the role multiple stakeholders will be playing in the open-access transformation. “We have chosen to take this collaborative approach to create the fund, as we believe it gives greatest transparency,” said Hill.

A total of 47 African countries will benefit from the proposed initiative, while Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda, which are not included, will continue to enjoy transformative agreements, or contracts, facilities that provide researchers in those countries waivers and other financial discounts when they publish their research in open-access journals of the CUP.

Transformative agreements are negotiated contracts between publishers and higher education institutions, whereby journal publishers enable researchers to publish free of charge.

But, under the current system, without fee waivers, articles processing charges for gold open-access publications are typically around £2,000 or about US$3,000, varying by journal, but authors at institutions with transformative agreements can avoid such high charges.

With 22 countries, Asia has the second-largest number of states globally that will benefit from the Cambridge Open Equity Initiative. These countries include: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Iraq, Jordan, Maldives, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. Other Asian countries on that list include Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestinian Territory, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

The third-largest group is composed of 15 small-island nations in Oceania that include Antigua and Barbuda, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Listed countries in North America are Belize, Dominica, El Salvador, Cuba, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica and Nicaragua, while South America has Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela on the suggested fee-waiver programme.

Academic authors from six European countries, namely, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Ukraine will also join the fee-waiver scheme.

Half of papers ‘open access’

Commenting on the issue, Professor Dixon Chibanda, the joint editor-in-chief of Global Mental Health, which is one of the Cambridge Prisms, a series of the fully open-access journals, said the new initiative will enable the rich practical lessons from the Global South to be shared with the global scientific community and hoped that other major publishers would follow.

Earlier this year, Cambridge University Press announced that more than half of its research papers are now published open access, as the publisher moves to make the vast majority of its papers freely available to all by 2025.

In this regard, Cambridge Open Equity Initiative is expected to accelerate this transition, particularly for scholars outside of high-income countries.

Curtis Brundy, the associate university librarian for scholarly communications and collections at Iowa State University in the United States, said there is need to maintain focus on equity as academic publishing globally tries to transition to open access.

He commended Cambridge University Press for coming up with an initiative that will help academic communities in low-income countries to overcome financial barriers, ensuring that scholars have the opportunity to publish, regardless of the availability of funding.