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Amid Knowledge Access Concerns, the Switch of German Universities and Institutes to Open Access Can Bring Visibility

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Forschungs-Schiff Sonne, November 21, 2014 | © Courtesy of Gerhard Kemme.

Though concerted university-level transitions to Open Access can raise competitiveness concerns, such as in Germany, ranking systems and downloading statistics indicate that Open Access can raise the international visibility of academic institutions.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

While the negotiations between German universities and Elsevier, as one of the largest publishers, over journal subscription charges appear to be stalled, according to David Matthews’ communication with Dr. Martin Köhler, a lawyer involved in these negotiations, for the Times Higher Education, interlibrary article loans, rather than illegal downloading, e.g., from Sci-Hub, can represent a viable alternative to prolongating the existing contracts between this publisher and German academic institutions.

In other words, the switch of German educational institutions and research organizations, such as the Helmholz Association of research centers that have cancelled their contracts with Elsevier, to Open Access, as they have been demanding from the publisher, can be a more realistic possibility starting 2018 than one might assume, as utilizing interlibrary loans for accessing paywall-protected scientific content can represent a cost-effective and relatively unencumbered alternative, such as in terms of time required to receive the requested materials, to renewing journal subscription deals.

Though in the framework of such arrangements at least one German university would have to maintain its toll-based journal subscription contracts with large publishers, as Dr. Köhler has stressed, this arrangement can serve the transition to Open Access not only in terms of demanding that German scholars and researchers publish their scientific output in Open Access, but also supporting Open Access journals or flipping subscription-based ones into Open Access by either adding Open Access options, as Elsevier has already done with respect to multiple journals it publishes, or encouraging the establishment of parallel Open Access journals, if publishers fail to accommodate Open Access demands or comply with corresponding guidelines.

Though severing subscription contracts with large journal publishers may raise concerns about the long-term competitiveness of German universities and institutes, as Elsevier has done, recent research results, as the 2017 presentation of Mikael Laakso from the University of Jyväskylä shows, on the impact of Open Access on academic organizations suggest that Open Access can significantly boost research discoverability. Furthermore, in 2016 Teplitskiy, Lu and Duede have found Open Access articles to be 47% more likely to be cited in Wikipedia than their subscription-protected counterparts. Consequently, German universities switching to Open Access can be expected to both remove barriers to the discoverability of their latest findings and increase their international visibility, especially since research reputation and citations can make up to 48% of university ranking scores, such as by the Times Higher Education. Furthermore, recent data suggest that Harvard University’s Open Access repository has been experiencing constantly growing yearly content downloading rates that have already reached more than 3,558,150 in 2017 alone.

Thus, rather than hamper the access to recent research results, Open Access can improve ranking positions of German academic institutions, while augmenting the discoverability of their scientific output.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Forschungs-Schiff Sonne, November 21, 2014 | © Courtesy of Gerhard Kemme.

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