cOAlition S, Plan S and accelerating OA

*Update, February 14 2019: read the feedback we’ve submitted to cOAlition S in response to the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S*

The recent announcements emanating from Europe around open access (OA) have resonated throughout the globe. In this post we examine the origin and aim of Plan S, briefly outline reactions to the Plan from researchers, funders, and publishers, and provide links to further information for interested readers including to a feedback survey created by cOAlition S.  

Key points 

  • What is Plan S?  Plan S aims to achieve full open access to publicly funded research outputs from 2020 onwards. It was authored by a group of largely European-based research funders (cOAlition S) who want to ensure that the research produced as a result of their funding is published open access. 
  • What are the requirements of Plan S? In order to comply with Plan S in the future, researchers who receive funding from Plan S signatories will need to publish in:  
    • a fully open access journal
    • an open access platform  
    • and / or make the accepted or final version of manuscripts freely available without embargo in compliant repositories under liberal reuse terms. 
    • Hybrid journals will not be compliant, but there is a grace period where publication in hybrid journals will be allowed, provided publishers have signed up to ‘transformative’ agreements with libraries and consortia. Transformative agreements pave the way for a library to switch funding from a subscription model to funding open access via article publishing charges (APCs) on behalf of their institution.   
  • What is Taylor & Francis’ response?  
    • Taylor & Francis advocates for open access and open research, and disseminating trusted, quality knowledge as widely as possible. We support many of the aims of Plan S, but have some areas of concerns that we have highlighted to the Plan S team and key policymakers. These areas of concern include potential impacts on research progression and competitiveness; the impact on our ability to serve the needs of a global, diverse community; and the lack of focus paid to researchers in humanities and social sciences. We point to the growth of open access in the UK following the outcomes of the 2012 Finch report, to prove how consultation and coordination across a broad cross stakeholder group has achieved the aim of increasing access to research. We do not want one barrier to be brought down, only for others to be put up in their place. 
  • How do I have a say? cOAltion S are seeking feedback from the scholarly communication community on their implementation guidance and Plan S, by 8 February 2019. We encourage editors and society partners to read the Plan and guidance and submit their views. 
  • We are hosting a webinar on Tuesday 15 January to provide more details, and any updates – look out for an invite from your T&F contact. 

 What is Plan S? 

The recent publication of Plan S, and its supporting implementation guidance, has caused a stir in the scholarly communication sphere, but what is the Plan, and who is behind it? 

The Plan’s core aim is to achieve full open access to the outcomes of publicly funded research, accelerating moves towards open access and openness. Allied with this aim is a desire to disseminate knowledge more effectively, make research progress more rapidly, and, according to the President of Science Europe, Marc Shiltz, to terminate the subscription model. Further ambitions include changing the rewards and incentives structures that underpin academia, and making scholarly publishing (and presumably research itself) more efficient and transparent. 

Plan S has been released under the auspices of cOAlition S, a largely European based consortium of research funding bodies with strong links to Science Europe. It is the brainchild of Robert Jan Smits from the European Political Strategy Centre, formerly Director-General of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission. It speaks to the European Commission’s aspiration of 100% open access by 2020, set out in the 2016 Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science.    

Plan S consists of ten key principles related to the aim of “accelerat[ing] the transition to a scholarly publishing system that is characterised by immediate, free online access to, and largely unrestricted use and re-use of scholarly publications”. For readers based in humanities and social sciences disciplines, it is worth noting that ‘science’ is used in the European context to refer to research or knowledge more broadly.  

What is in the Plan? 

Following on from publication of the ten principles, late November 2018 saw the publication of implementation guidance, which outlines practical aspects of the Plan in some more detail (however there are many areas where we will be seeking clarity). Essentially, from January 2020, researchers based in organizations supportive of Plan S, and those funded by participating bodies, will have to adhere to mandates, focused around the following areas: 

– publication of their work in fully Open journals,  i.e. those that have no subscription element 


– archiving the accepted version (or final version) of their work in a repository, so that it is available immediately upon publication and licensed under the most liberal terms for reuse 

The original Plan proscribed researchers publishing in ‘hybrid’ journals.  The more recently published guidelines have been softened to include a grace period during which publication in hybrid journals will be allowed, provided publishers have signed up to ‘transformative’ agreements with libraries and consortia. Transformative agreements pave the way for a library to switch funding from a subscription model to funding open access via article publishing charges (APCs) on behalf of their institution.  

Other aspects of the Plan and implementation guidance include increasing cost transparency (a review is planned next year), setting up mechanisms to monitor compliance, and setting out eligibility criteria for open access journals / platforms and repositories. There is no mention of disciplinary difference, despite earlier acknowledgement of the importance of making open access viable for humanities and social science disciplines. As you may expect, there are still many areas that remain unclear. Questions are already being asked around practical aspects of the Plan, including how collaboration would function where members of a project team are subject to Plan S mandates, and others aren’t. Concerns have also been voiced around researchers subject to Plan S no longer being able to read key publications in their field. 

Who has signed up? 

At the time of writing, a number of research funders have signed up to Plan S, mostly within Europe, including UKRI in the United Kingdom, the Research Council of Norway and the Austrian Science Fund. Outside of Europe, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has formally signed up, and there has been support expressed by China’s National Science Library, National Science and Technology Library and the Natural Science Foundation of China. Interestingly some funders have chosen as yet not to sign up because of concerns around infringing academic freedom (for example DFG / German Research Foundation) and concerns over the short timeframe for implementation.  

Plan S has not been formally endorsed by the European Commission, but has the involvement and support of a number of representatives from various Directorates General within the Commission, including Carlos Moedas, the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. From our discussions with the Plan S team and policymakers in Brussels, there is a great deal of support for Plan S, and approval of how it has served to catalyse discussions. However, it is unlikely that this will influence any change to Horizon Europe, the next Framework Research Programme for funding within Europe (succeeding Horizon2020 which covered some €80 billion in European funding grants from 2014 to 2020). Whilst policymakers don’t want scholarly communication to miss the boat in terms of the transition to digital and a shift towards open, they appreciate the complexity and diversity of the current scholarly research ecosystem, and do not want to do anything that might damage Europe’s research excellence and leadership. 

What are some of the implications of  the Plan? 

Estimates across the scholarly publishing landscape are that the Plan S signatories represent around 5% of global research output. Whilst the group is important and influential we do have to consider their requirements in this context, and not neglect our obligation to other stakeholders. This percentage figure is much higher for certain journals and communities. In some cases, this will help us to make a sustainable transition of these journals to a fully open access model, as the needs of the community change. However, the list also covers other journals that could not successfully transition to a model based around payment linked to publication not readership. These journals are often highly regarded, smaller, society owned journals, often in humanities and social sciences disciplines, that serve as the voice of their communities. All of our journals publish work from a global audience, from countries that are progressing towards open access at very different speeds and often have differing views around the most effective means to disseminate knowledge. We have to take these differing needs into account when considering how best to serve these communities  

Encouragingly, the Plan S team do acknowledge that different countries and regions have different views and aims around open access, and that this has not been universally seized upon as the means to disseminate knowledge more effectively. David Sweeney acknowledges that the Global South / emerging economies, may be impacted by the Plan S mandate, though expects APCs to partly subsidise waiver schemes that will facilitate publishers continuing to offer discount to researchers from these regions (whether this might impede the growth in research output from these regions needs to be explored). There is an understanding that the current research ecosystem is complex and as such fragile and no desire to ‘break’ this system or damage the excellence and standing of European research.  

What has been the response from researchers and learned and professional societies? 

There has been much attention given to an open letter coordinated by biochemist Lyn Kamerlin and signed by over 1,500 researchers. This letter focuses on the potential risks with forcing a transition towards open, picking up specifically on the effect of restricting researchers from accessing key journals in their fields, and funded researchers falling out of step with the rest of the world.  

Michael Eisen has started a petition, signed by over 1,800 researchers to date in support of ‘Funder Open Publishing Mandates’ which implicitly supports the Principles of Plan S.  

Responses from other sources have varied: the British Academy endorsed aspects of the plan but voiced concerns around implications for HSS disciplines, licensing and the restriction on publication in hybrid journals. Whilst the  Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Oslo support the ambition to “strengthen the value of research for society” they criticise Plan S’s focus on article publishing charge (APC) based OA. The UK-based Academy of Social Sciences hosted a forum for various learned and professional societies to discuss implications, where it was clear that researchers had very little awareness of Plan S and its potential implications. Given input from societies to date, the Wellcome Trust has partnered with the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and UKRI to carry out a consultation exercise, though this seems unlikely to develop any meaningful recommendations in the coming months.  

The Plan S team note that there has been some misinterpretation of the policy, and we look forward to further clarification on areas of misunderstanding.  

What is Taylor & Francis’ response? 

We share many of the aspirations of Plan S and are advocates for open access, which we have shown through converting titles to full open access, signing up to ‘transformative’ agreements, launching new services and products such as our Research Dashboard, and experimenting, for example with our Green Open Access zero embargo pilot on Library and Information Science journals. We have offered Creative Commons licences on open access content for the past five years. We have also long seen the value of archiving in repositories.  Our early commitment to long-term preservation of research through our partnership with archives such as Portico and CLOCKSS illustrates this. As customer needs have changed we have also created supportive policies to enable authors to archive accepted manuscripts in institutional repositories. This option is normally available a set period of time after publication. 

That said, we have some reservations around Plan S and its related implementation guidance, many of which may be clarified once more detail is provided. We have serious concerns about its impact on investment levels, academic independence, and the power, reach and competitiveness of academic research. We would point to the growth of open access in the UK as an example of how cross stakeholder collaboration could help to achieve cOAltion S’s goals (following the 2012 report on open access by the working group chaired by Janet Finch, the UK has seen a growth in OA that outstrips global averages).  

As a large publisher, we will be able to weather the effects of Plan S more effectively than some smaller publishers, which has been pointed out in various blog posts on the issue. The point around engagement in transformative agreements has for example emerged as an area where smaller publishers will need to play catch up.  

What can I do? 

We intend to submit a response to the call for feedback, which has a deadline of 8 February. Although publisher responses will be taken in to account, researcher and learned society inputs will be more meaningful, and as such we would encourage researchers and societies to examine the ten principles and implementation guidance and to submit their feedback before 8 February 2019. Respondents are also invited to upload a supporting document with their responses to the two questions asked in the feedback survey.  

We would expect feedback to be made public by the Plan S team, but this has not been confirmed (however, the Wellcome Trust made the inputs to its consultation publicly available via Figshare and we would expect the Plan S team to follow suit). 

We will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday 15 January which our editors and learned and professional society partners are welcome to join. This will provide some more context to the points above, and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide their own viewpoints. Look out for the invite from your T&F contact. 

Further reading and useful links 


December 17, 2018

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