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Open access funding guide for researchers


November 22, 2016

This guest post was authored by Milena Dobreva.[1]

Do you really need a load of gold to pay for a gold open access publication?

Last week a colleague was asking how to find good quality open access journals with reasonable fees in his research domain. Having previous experience with submitting manuscripts to various journals, this researcher was feeling confused by the differences in the costs and policies related to Article Processing Charges (APCs).[2] We both work in universities which still do not have a regulated stream to support the publishing fees for gold open access publications. Could one conclude that this restricts academics to solely use the green open access route? Here I present some helpful hints for tapping into financial support for gold open access.


There is a big group of open access journals that are free for both authors and readers. However, especially in Life Sciences, numerous OA journals charge author side fees. David Solomon and Bo-Christer Björk published earlier this year their findings on the article processing charges for open access (OA) publications focusing in particular on the research intensive universities in the USA and Canada. They demonstrated that Full OA journal APCs cost almost 2,000 USD in average while hybrid OA journals charge about 50% higher APCs, about 3,000 USD in average. This study illustrates a particular situation, APC expenditure in research intensive North American universities. In reality the APC landscape is considerably more diversified and the origin of researchers makes a huge difference. According to De Gruyter Open Author Survey from 2015-16, academics from the core countries[3] paid on average 1,100 euros, the median for those from the peripheral countries[4] is 300 euros. While the explanation for the diversity in expenditure could lie in the choice of journals, the situation is not so straight-forward since many open access journals offer lower APCs for authors from specific countries.

However, open access is desired when academics need to access publications, but putting up with the costs in journals which are still establishing their reputations does not look so attractive to researchers; especially when they self-fund the publication. The cost of open access is one of the famous stumbling blocks for more academics considering to share their research publications as gold OA. How to convince academics to publish in open access is a huge topic. Here we will be considering the scenario of an academic who is eager to prepare a publication and is struggling with finding the right journal and the required funding.

What tips could help academics navigate the complex landscape of OA journals and choose the best journal in terms of quality and coherence for their research topic with finding the ways to meet the APCs? These six steps (see the main image) could be of help.

Step 1. Select the right journal(s)

Various tools have emerged to help researchers in choosing the most suitable journal for their publication. JournalGuide is an example of a free tool which matches titles and abstracts to a bigger set of journals from different publishers. Starting with it would be a good initial step for researchers who are still considering which journal would be the most suitable to approach.

For those researchers who are committed from the very beginning to open access, a natural additional point of reference is the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which was launched in 2003 at Lund University, Sweden, with 300 open access journals and currently offers information on over 9250 OA journals. This resource also includes details on the APCs but it does not offer the feature of mapping potential publication titles and abstracts with the journals listed on DOAJ.

Finding the right journal is more challenging in the current environment of an unprecedented choice of journals. It means there must be balance between the profile of the journal with the research of the author, its reputation, the efficiency of the publication schedule— and also the affordability when publication fees are involved.

Before looking at sources of funding check which OA journals match the topic of your publication best and also help to obtain information on anticipated costs. You might even end your quest here, discovering a free OA journal of good reputation matching your topic!

Step 2. Support for publications resulting from FP7 research

When the research which is being reported in the article results from FP7 research, there is still an option to obtain funds for an OA publication. The FP7 Post-Grant OA Publication Pilot is a funding mechanism being implemented by the OpenAIRE project. It allows authors of publications resulting from research within some 8000 FP7 projects to apply for covering of OA APCs for publications arising from finished projects (i.e. post-grant). The total budget is 4 mln EUR and the pilot will be completed in April 2017. In addition, the Pilot supports open access journals which do not charge APC. However, the policy guidelines for the Pilot exclude support for hybrid open access journals. OpenAIRE helps authors to explore where previous articles have been published by providing an up-to-date list of over 150 fully Open Access journals which had already benefitted from this funding stream.

The funding is limited to €2,000 for research articles and €6,000 for monographs. In addition to the publication, the final version of the publication has to be made available via an OpenAIRE-compliant Open Access repository thus combining the gold and green routes in OA.

By 31 October 2016 the pilot had granted funding to 602 journal articles, 30 books, 10 book chapters, and 1 conference proceedings. There is still time to make use of this opportunity.

The graph below illustrates the numbers of approved requests per country based on data provided by Pablo de Castro (2016). While Spain, UK, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands utilised some 80% of this publication opportunity, as the Pareto line in red shows on the diagram, there are currently four EU countries which do not have even a single OA publication funded by the pilot: Estonia, Latvia, Malta, and Romania – despite the various methods used to inform researchers.


Have you ever worked on a FP7-funded project? You have time until April 2017 to request support for OA publications resulting from the project.

Step 3. Budgeting projects to reflect policies of project funders

Researchers active in attracting project funding can prevent the question of how to cover APCs by including a provision for gold OA in the project budget. One specific difficulty here is the fact that different funders have different requirements. There is already a tool which helps researchers to check what the open access requirements of a wide range of funders are – Juliet. In some countries like the UK, it has become a common practice to include a budget provision for gold OA in all project funding requests, but this is not a common rule in other environments. As H2020 Programme (25 August 2016: p.7) stipulates, the EC is also supporting Gold OA for publications from H2020 projects (including in hybrid journals).

If you are currently involved in a project funded by an external body, check the requirements on OA and respectively the budget provisions of the project.

Step 4. Institutional support for OA in higher education

In many cases funds to support OA publications are managed by the library in the case of higher education institutions.

To check if a particular institution has funds for OA, one can first check with their library, and also consult the Open Access Directory, or the SPARC Open Access Funds in Action (2011; 2016). The latter documents mostly cover North American higher education institutions. It is interesting to see that from 11 pages in 2011 the list of institutions grew to 51 pages in 2016. Libraries of academic institutions should be able to provide guidance on institutional funding streams, if they are available.

Some institutions also use a different model, of membership fees which allow their staff members to publish open access without paying individual APCs.

It is essential to check what are the requirements of the institutions on the submissions whose APCs might be supported – such requirements might include visibility of the OA journal (for example, only publications in journals listed on DOAJ are supported); articles being peer reviewed; or requirements on the impact factor of
the journal.

Check with your library what the provisions for paying gold OA fees are and/or whether it pays a membership fee to specific publishers. Institutions committed to such services are usually listed on directories which provide information on organisational support for open access.

Step 5. Support on a national level

The national policies on open access differ across the world and across the EC. More EC countries prefer the green route, but some countries (Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom) have a preference for the gold open access (Tarazona Rua et al., 2015). The preference towards gold OA would normally mean that there is a well-defined national policy and institutions entrusted with its implementation (for example, see the report “Monitoring the Transition to Open Access” on the implementation of open access in UK, 2015). The number of national-level offsetting agreements with publishers is growing, see for instance in UK, the Netherlands, or Austria.

Check the national policy and identify bodies that support publishing in gold OA.

Step 6. Check the publishers’ provisions

Many publishers have stipulated policies which help authors to have their APC fees waived or reduced. It is most typical to find opportunities for waving APC fees for authors from developing countries, and to have discounted fees for outstanding authors (those with a high citation index for example). If you are not sure if this is the case with a journal you are planning to approach, search the website of the publisher for “APC waiver and discount policies”.

However, some publishers also offer dubious incentives for authors. This might be an example: “Authors that cite www.grjournals.com manuscripts as reference in their ISI articles can send their manuscripts to one of above journals as FREE of charge. After evaluation and get an acceptance it will publish without any Article Processing Fee with DOI.”[5][6]

If in doubt, consult the staff in your library which deals with open access.

Do a search on the website of the publisher for “APC waiver and discount policies”.


The continuous support for promoting and expanding open access is creating a diversified landscape with various tools supporting researchers who are willing to publish their research results in gold open access. Researchers receive help on different aspects related to open access—from up-to-date information on funders’ requirements, to match-making between potential publications and journals.

Currently, academics might seek for support for covering the costs of their open access publications on project level, institutional level, and in specific cases they can benefit from waiving of APCs from publishers.

With over 9000 journals on DOAJ providing access to over 2.3 mln articles, academics nowadays demonstrate a growing level of comfort with gold OA. Partially this success could be explained with the various ways of supporting authors including on the financial side of this publishing model.


The author would like to thank Pablo de Castro, Open Access Project Officer – LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche), for his helpful feedback and suggestions.

Main image: Six steps towards identifying available funding for gold OA, created with Edrawsoft


de Castro, P. (2016) The OpenAIRE FP7 Post-Grant Open Access Pilot. Presentation at the conference Open Science in H2020, 8 November 2016, Belgrade, Serbia, available on http://h2020.rcub.bg.ac.rs/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/05_de_Castro.pdf

H2020 Programme (25 August 2016) Guidelines on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data in Horizon 2020. Version 3.1. 10 pp. https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/grants_manual/hi/oa_pilot/h2020-hi-oa-pilot-guide_en.pdf

Monitoring the Transition to Open Access. A report for the Universities UK Open Access Co-ordination Group, August 2015, Available: https://www.acu.ac.uk/research-information-network/monitoring-transition-to-open-access

Solomon, D., & Björk, B.-C. (2016), Article processing charges for open access publication—the situation for research intensive universities in the USA and Canada. PeerJ 4:e2264; DOI 10.7717/peerj.2264

SPARC (2011) Open Access Funds in Action, SPARC, 2011, http://www.sparc.arl.org/sites/default/files/fundsinaction.pdf

SPARC (2016) Open Access Funds in Action, SPARC, 2016, http://sparcopen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/OA-Funds-in-Action-4.7.16.pdf

Tarazona Rua, M.M., Spichtinger, D., Ramjoue, C., Dechamp, J.-F. (eds) (2016) Access to and Preservation of Scientific Information in Europe. Report on the implementation of Commission Recommendation C(2012) 4890, 125 pp. http://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/pdf/openaccess/npr_report.pdf#view=fit&pagemode=none


1 – Since 2012 Milena Dobreva is an Associate Professor in the University of Malta. Her major research interests are in digital libraries and digital humanities

2 – Article processing charge (APC), or book processing charge (BPC) is a fee which might be charged to authors to make a work available in gold open access.

3 – Core countries for the purposes of the study are those with GDP per capita more than 20,000 USD.

4 – With GDP per capita less than 20,000 USD.

5 – Call for papers from Global Researchers Journals; in the time of preparing the blog publication the website of the publisher was not working; it is not clear if this is a technical fault or it ceased its operations.

6 – We kept the original text; “ISI articles” should refer to articles visible on the Web of Science of Thomson Reuters.

This entry was posted on November 22, 2016 by Witold Kieńć and tagged , , .

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