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Implementing Plan S- what about the Institutions?

21 June 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Implementing Plan S - what about the Institutions?


Ever since Coalition S announced Plan S, the mission to make the transition to full and immediate Open Access a reality by 2020, (Science Europe, 2019) the world of scholarly communications has existed under a cloud of uncertainty. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the initiative and fully support Open Access to information and the dissemination of knowledge, I find myself wondering how funders, publishers and institutions will make this Plan a reality and I am not alone. Just take a look at the plethora of responses (over 600) to the initial implementation guidance and you will get a feel for just how controversial this Plan is (Science Europe, 2019). As we are now already half way through 2019, and fast approaching 2020, realising this incredibly ambitious plan seems to grow more complex by the day.

Earlier this month, I attended the Keynote Seminar held by Westminster Forums- Priorities for delivering Open Access - Implementing Plan S (Westminster Forum Projects, 2019). I hoped that the seminar would enlighten me as to how the Plan would actually be implemented but I have to say that, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the day, I left feeling perhaps more perplexed than when I arrived. The seminar began with Dr Jean-Claude Burgelman- Head of Unit for Open Science of the European Commission (EC). Dr. Burgelman made clear that the European Commission, whilst in full support of Plan S, has yet to sign. Another surprising statement was from a Carrie Webster of Springer Nature, who stressed that 90 % of funders are yet to sign up to Plan S which perhaps suggests that the Plan will not realise its full potential by 2020 (Carrie Webster, 2019).

The seminar then unfolded with speakers from across the scholarly communications sector, including representatives from publishers, academics from institutions, and Royal Societies, discussing various topics with questions and comments from the floor. There were lively discussions about publisher plans to transition their publications to full OA and the transformative agreement, and the need for more transparency in pricing structures for Gold OA. The ongoing debate of how to extend OA to monographs also sparked much controversy especially book processing charges. It was obvious that we are still a very long way off from realising this ambition.

Another hot topic and one which has been circulating amongst library colleagues ever since the implementation guidelines were released is which route would be the best way to make the Plan work- Green or Gold OA? I was encouraged by Dr Stephen Eglen, University of Cambridge, who was the only person to mention the UK Scholarly Communications License (UKSCL) and his support for Plan S to consider Green OA as the route to an Open Access future. I wonder whether the UKSCL would be a better way to go for Universities with a less research focused background to support their researchers and the Open Access agenda? I agree that self-archiving could be the way forward if publishers were willing to lower embargo periods and to re-think subscription costs to make research publications open sooner.

I thought that two of the most interesting speakers were Sarah Slowe, Head of Scholarly Communications, and Professor Sue Scott, University of York. Both discussed the myriad challenges facing HE institutions and affiliated academics. Professor Scott voiced her concern for post 1992 Universities with the potential for inequality in funding. As Professor Scott rightly pointed out, teaching has been at the fore for most of these types of institutions in the past, so if Gold OA is made the catalyst for ensuring an Open Access future, she wondered how funds would be made available to pay for these charges. I ask myself the same question, but of course it will depend on which funders sign up to Plan S and what their OA policies will be. Sarah Slowe stressed the importance of recognising how making a full transition to OA is resource heavy in terms of people and infrastructure, especially when processing APCs. Anyone who works in a HE library or research support services knows how complex this can be so it was great to have this recognition at such an important event.

Rachel Bruce, Open Science Lead for URKI closed the day discussing next steps for UKRI’s OA policy- the most memorable comment from her presentation was that there had been less engagement with non-research intensive institutions which left me feeling quite deflated- are we being forgotten, or are we not shouting loud enough? I wonder how many even replied to the initial implementation guidelines. Fundamentally, the cloud of uncertainty remains. I walked away from the seminar no less sure than when I arrived- I know that Plan ‘Shock’ will be implemented but whilst the future is definitely an Open Access one, when that future will become a reality and how it will look seems as ambiguous as ever.

Banner image: Open Science Stickers Pack XL by J. Albert Bowden II CC BY 2.0.

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