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While European Union Open Access Goals May be Unrealistic, Survey Findings Indicate Progress for Open Science

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Bloomsbury: British Museum - Great Court and Reading Room, London, UK, November 12, 2006 © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz/Flickr.

Even through in his recent news item, David Matthews concludes that the European Union’s 2020 target of universal Open Access adoption is not likely to be achieved on time based on recent surveys among European universities, these findings also show that Open Access policies have resulted in significant increases in pre- and post-print deposits of scholarly articles and dissertations into institutional repositories.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

Though the rates of transition to Open Access in terms of articles published in Open Access journals appears to have plateaued in recent years, as David Matthews argues in his piece that appeared on March 7, 2018, in Times Higher Education, it may be important to bear in mind that multiple, equally valid Open Access models, such as Gold, Green and hybrid Open Access, exist. Moreover, the free availability of research findings, that according to Matthews accounts to only about a fifth of recently published peer-reviewed articles among 60% to 70% of European universities surveyed, does not necessarily coincide with Open Access, as it refers to Gold Open Access only. In the framework of Green or hybrid Open Access, newly published scientific papers remain behind paywalls for a limited period of time, such as up to two years, after which they become freely accessible.

In other words, the lacking progress of Gold Open Access does not preclude significant strides for Open Access in general. Even through Gold Open Access can be eponymously held as a golden standard of Open Access by policymakers and commentators alike, this approach narrows the definition of Open Access, while disregarding the issues of journal sustainability, as Open Access journals combining subscription fees and article processing charges (APCs) can be more economically viable than those based on APCs alone or waiving author-facing charges altogether. The overemphasis on Gold Open Access as a policy-making target also diminishes the progress that other forms of Open Access, such as pre- or post-prints deposited in university depositories, have made in recent years.

While institutional repositories do not necessarily change the journal publishing game in favor of Open Access journals, as they allow toll-based, peer-reviewed prestigious journals to retain their predominant market positioning at least in terms of journal-level impact factor metrics, such as for 81.7% of institutions surveyed in the 20187 report by Rita Morais and Lidia Borrell-Damian, they, nevertheless, promote Open Science as Open Access to recent scientific findings. Indeed, the 2016-2017 European University Association’s report on Open Access indicates that, while the increase in the number of Open Access journals as a subscription cost cutting measure remains a long-term goal, after adopting Open Access policies at the number of universities surveyed depositing more than 50% their peer-reviewed journal articles in institutional or shared repositories has risen spectacularly from around 7 to more than 30. Likewise, after European universities put into force Open Access guidelines between early 2000s and 2015, the number of institutions at which the share of monographs, peer-reviewed conference papers and doctoral thesis deposited into Open Access repositories exceeds 50% has increased from about 4, 3 and 23 to approximately 14, 20 and 57 respectively.

In other words, recent survey data indicate robust advances in the domain of Open Access in recent years by dint of the significant positive impact that the adoption of Open Access policies has had on the rate at which peer-reviewed publications are deposited in freely accessible institutional repositories. This also suggests that a wider adoption of publication-level, rather than journal-level, impact metrics, is likely to further promote Open Science.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Bloomsbury: British Museum – Great Court and Reading Room, London, UK, November 12, 2006 © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz/Flickr.

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