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A response from Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at the Wellcome Trust, to UCL’s “Response to Plan S”

By Catherine Sharp, on 30 January 2019

UCL is pleased to post Robert Kiley’s response to the UCL Town Hall meeting and UCL’s Plan S consultation response as a contribution to the ongoing consultation over Plan S.

As the cOAlition S representative at the UCL Town Hall meeting I’d like to thank UCL for their response to the Plan S guidance document and for giving me the opportunity to respond to some of the points raised.

Firstly, I’d like to commend UCL for the principled stand it has taken on open access and open science more generally.  This stand has been supported by concrete actions as seen in the development of UCL Press – where all content is made freely available – and the fact that UCL were one of the first UK universities to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and implement this through its academic career framework.

With this pedigree and background, I was disappointed by the UCL response to Plan S which calls for a “wholescale rethink of the strategy and timelines for moving to 100% Open Access”.

The fundamental aim of Plan S is to ensure that research outputs are made openly available, for the benefit of all.  As a species we are facing huge problems – climate change, epidemic preparedness etc. – and to begin to address these we need to ensure that the research we fund is fully accessible and usable.  At the UCL Town Hall meeting, Professor David Shanks gave the example of the Liberian government being unaware of research which talked about the potential impact of an Ebola outbreak within their country.  Had this research been openly available – and the Liberian government acted upon it – then some of the 4810 deaths may have been prevented.

To bring about this change, we need to move to a world where no research is behind a paywall: this is why we are no longer supporting the hybrid OA model.  However, we recognise that publishers may not be able to change their business model immediately.  For this reason, the Plan S implementation guidance makes clear that, for a time-limited period, we will continue to support subscription publishers who develop transformative models to move to OA.  And we are already starting to see some publishers move in this direction, as witnessed by the recent Wiley agreement with Projekt DEAL.

In your response you point out that, as of today, many journals do not offer a Plan S-compliant option.  This is true.  But, if these journals wish to continue to publish the outputs of researchers funded by cOAlition S funders, they will need to develop alternative publishing models.  A journal which can no longer publish research funded by cOAlition S funders is, in the long term, a less impactful journal.

And, even if some journals do refuse to change their model, given that many funders and institutions have signed DORA (including UCL) does this really matter?  If you are assessing researchers based on the research they have conducted and its societal impact, the venue of publication should have no bearing on funding, promotion and hiring decisions.

Within the Plan S leadership team we fully appreciate that the changes we are seeking to bring about will be challenging and that a number of learned societies – many of whom rely on publishing revenues to support their other activities – may face particular difficulties.  To address this issue, Wellcome has joined with UKRI and the ALPSP to fund a study to explore how learned societies can adapt and thrive in a Plan S world.  In reviewing the submissions for this piece of work it is interesting to see a number of new initiatives being trialled, such as the Electrochemical Society’s “Free the Science” initiative, the “Subscribe to Open” model being implemented by the not-for-profit publisher Annual Reviews and various other consortia models.

Ultimately, for Plan S to be successful we need the initiative to be supported globally.  The UCL response correctly points out that Europe alone is too small a player to bring about this change.  That is why significant effort is being deployed to encourage other funders to align their policies with Plan S.  At the recent Berlin OA2020 meeting the Chinese delegation indicated that they support the ambition of Plan S.  More recently the African Academy of Sciences signalled its support, and discussions are ongoing with colleagues in many other parts of the work including the US, Canada, Japan and India.

Of course, it is not just funders who need to support this initiative.  As your observations indicate, engagement between many stakeholders is required, and cOAlition S members are keen to foster this dialogue.  Specifically, institutions – like UCL – can play a significant role in bringing about the change we all seek. At one level this can be supporting academics, making it clear that venue of publication will not be used when undertaking researcher evaluation.  At another level this might take the form of making a public commitment that library journal subscription budgets will, at some future date, be used to meet the publishing costs incurred by researchers at your institutions.  If publishers understand that the subscription revenues for “read access” are time-limited, the flip to open access will surely happen more quickly.

Working together we can bring about this change to ensure that research outputs are made openly available, for the benefit of all.  Now is the time to act.

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