Open access and Plan S: how Wellcome is tackling four key concerns

There has been lots of reaction to the changes we’re making to Wellcome’s open access policy to ensure that no research is behind a paywall. This is how we are working to address them.

A woman scientist handling test tubes at UK Biobank.
We want to ensure research outputs are freely available, and that researchers are assessed fairly for funding and promotion.
Credit: Wellcome

Robert Kiley

David Carr

Robert Kiley

David Carr

Since we announced our new open access policy and joined cOAlition S, we have had extensive feedback from our funded researchers, research institutions and publishers – both in response to the public consultation on the implementation of Plan S and through ongoing emails and discussions. 

While many people have welcomed our new policy, others have concerns and questions. 

What if high-quality journals don’t offer compliant routes – will they be off limits?   

Journals do not have to introduce a paid open access mechanism to be compliant with Plan S. They can allow the authors to self-archive the final peer-reviewed author manuscript in PubMed Central on publication (with a CC-BY licence). 

Several publishers – such as the Royal Society and the Microbiology Society – support such a model, and it’s likely that others will also allow compliance through this route.

Other major publishers – including Wiley and Springer Nature – are already developing arrangements with Jisc Collections that will allow researchers to publish in their journals, if their institutions sign up to the arrangement.

We have recently awarded funding to Jisc Collections to ensure it has sufficient resource to explore potential arrangements with smaller publishers, especially learned societies.

There is still more than ten months to go before Wellcome’s new policy comes into effect. We think that before then many more journals will introduce options that are compliant.

Won’t researchers’ careers be disadvantaged, particularly early career researchers?

For more than a decade, our open access policy has made it clear that what counts when we make funding decisions is the intrinsic merit of the work and not the journal or publisher.

We know that many researchers believe that where their research is published will affect how funders and others judge that research. This isn’t a sufficient reason for us to compromise our requirement for openness and limit the value of the research we fund. 

Funders and the wider community need to show leadership to ensure research outputs are freely available, and that researchers are assessed fairly in funding, promotion and other key assessment processes.

This is why our new policy specifies that institutions receiving Wellcome funding must commit to the principles embedded in the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), or an equivalent. 

Before the policy comes into effect in January 2021, we will provide guidance for Wellcome-supported institutions on how they can demonstrate this commitment.

Will international collaborations be threatened?

For the reasons highlighted above, we are confident that the choice of journals available to researchers will not be as limited as some fear. 

We are working with our partners to encourage other funders from around the world to join cOAlition S. We anticipate that support will continue to grow and that funders will increasingly adopt consistent approaches. 

Many international groups will still want to work with the world-class researchers we fund in the UK and around the world. The desire to join forces to address shared research questions should supersede any considerations over where the resulting work can be published.

Will learned societies be threatened by the loss of publication revenues?

Learned societies play a valuable role in supporting researchers and contributing to a vibrant research ecosystem. So, in partnership with UKRI and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), we have commissioned a consultancy to help the societies explore alternative revenue streams and business models

A number of new models are already being explored, such as the Electrochemical Society’s Free the Science and the Subscribe to Open approach being implemented by Annual Reviews

Other approaches could include moving away from publishing original research to curation, where the expertise of the Society and its members are used to highlight the most significant articles, irrespective of where they were published. Such a curation service could be supported by a subscription model.

We want learned societies to thrive, but we also want the research they publish to be freely available – we must find a way to achieve both goals.

Keep your feedback coming

We are dedicated to ensuring that the research we fund can be accessed and used by researchers around the world to achieve the greatest possible health benefit. We believe now is the time for decisive action to drive this change.

We are committed to support our funded researchers and institutions, and to help them navigate any challenges as they arise. To help us do this, we want to hear feedback about what you need from Wellcome, and your ideas about the opportunities and challenges our new policy creates. You can get in touch at openaccess@wellcome.org

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