Open Access: the ‘Plan S’

HemAffairs Sept 24 v3


Research and academic groundwork funded with public means should be free and open to everyone. That is the principle behind Open Access that was formulated in 2003 in the Berlin Declaration. More than a decade has passed since and for years no significant action was taken. Scientific research, paid for by the taxpayer, is still mostly locked behind paywalls. Until 2018, when a group of national research funding organizations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), established cOAlition S and presented the ‘Plan S’. This initiative is essential towards making full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality, but still has a long way to go. 

Why is Open Access taking so long?

The public interest in Open Access has grown exponentially since the rise of the internet fundamentally changed the distribution of scientific knowledge. While publishers were upset as they saw their business models disappear, research funding organizations were excited to bring science to a larger audience.

Two versions of Open Access were formulated to facilitate the transition to an Open Access system: the “golden route” and the “green route”. In case of a “golden route” the publication fee, known as article processing charge (APC), is paid by the author or his or her institution. The advantage is Open Access to all interested readers. Publishers are fairly positive about this solution as they would still be paid for their work. The downside is that some universities and research institutions will not be able to cover the high APCs. The “green route” allows authors to upload their articles to a repository, making the publication Open Access to the rest of the world. Publishers may demand an embargo period, during which access is restricted. The “green route” does not impose any financial barriers on research institutions; however, this route does not enforce complete Open Access because academic information is still monetized, albeit for a limited period of time.

cOAlition S

cOAlition S (Plan S) is an initiative of a group of national research funding organizations, supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC). In September 2018 they announced their plan to realize full and immediate Open Access to research publications.  

The vision of Plan S is clear: “From 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms”. Based on this vision the coalition has formulated 10 principles and 9 action points.

To facilitate the transition from subscription models to Open Access, cOAlition S has adopted the so-called “transformative arrangements”. Publishers that opt for such an agreement have until 2024 to implement Open Access.

The current business model of subscription journals appears outdated and unwanted. Besides, publishers are charging twice without reinvesting the money back into research, leading to a net loss of research money to for-profit organizations. In this regard, Open Access science helps create a level playing field for free scientific journals vis-à-vis paid publications.

Stakeholders have responded in different ways. Organizations in favor of Open Access have expressed concerns about the implementation, as the proposed timeline and demands are rigid. The research community is afraid that authors may be limited in their academic freedom and publication options by obliging them to only publish in Open Access journals. In addition, authors may find it difficult to bear the costs of publishing in Open Access journals (in the case of the “golden route”). Remarkably, various publishers, the “natural opponents” of Plan S, have responded relatively mildly to it; Science and Nature for example are already in the process of implementing Open Access into their business models.

Where is it headed?

According to cOAlition S, Open Access is the future. Discussions should focus not on “if” Open Access should be implemented but on “how” this is done. The implementation of Open Access in a European context is dependent on the support of national governments. Although cOAlition S is already endorsed by more than 14 countries, important scientific contributors such as Germany have not committed to cOAlition S. The endeavor still has a long way to go.

EHA and Open Access

EHA, which publishes its own open access journal HemaSphere, is an active participant in the debate about the Plan S. Keep an eye out for the next issue of HemAffairs to read more about EHA’s involvement and views.


Last Updated on Thursday 03 October 2019.