Plan S off to a delayed start

The initiative aiming to make all government-funded research Open Access has delayed its planned start date by one year – from January 2020 to January 2021. 

cOAlition S, the team behind Plan S, is supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council and is made up of a group of national research funding organisations and charitable organisations, who aim to make scientific publications funded by private or public grants instantly and entirely Open Access. The national funders and charitable foundations include UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome.

The initiative states “with effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo”.

The core principles of Plan S include:

The prevention of scholarly publications being concealed and locked behind a paywall

Immediate open access without embargoes

Default adoption of the CC-BY license

Price transparency and cost-effectiveness in the funding system so that ‘public spending on research is financially and morally justifiable’ and 

A commitment to support publication fees at a reasonable level

Recent revisions to the implementation of Plan S include, not just the new delayed start date so there is more time for researchers and publishers to adapt to the proposed changes, but also more options for transformative agreements and models. Publishing and Science are deeply fused professions that have adapted but remained linked since the days of Robert Maxwell. The radical and controversial initiative has raised contention amongst some publishers and researchers particularly with regard to the previously stipulated dismissal of hybrid journals that support both traditional subscription based publishing as well as Open Access via the submission of an Article Processing Charge (APC). 

The updated guidelines now place more emphasis on transformative agreements such as the signing of read-and-publish or publish-and-read agreements. Funders do not plan to support hybrid journals unless they are involved in a transformative agreement with an end point in sight. A transition period post the 2021 implementation date has been set until 2024 with the idea of having adequate time to examine the effects of Plan S, adjust and positively adapt as a result. The emergence of more options to transform and comply in the new guidelines presented have been welcomed by many and the acknowledgment of feedback reinforces how crucial continued collaboration will be in order for Plan S to become a sustainable success. Continued dialogue will be invaluable between all involved – researchers, funders, authors, institutions, publishers and societies alike.

Naturally, there are challenges around keeping the implementation of Plan S in line with its principles whilst simultaneously ensuring the implementation does not result in unplanned, negative repercussions that counter or otherwise undermine any positive intent. Whilst the delay of one year is certainly necessary, is it a sufficient delay that gives researchers and publishers enough time to prepare? 

One concern is the shift is taking place on a highly ambitious timescale and on top of this the changes are not global, thus potentially hampering a researcher’s options. However more positively, transitional support from some of the funders and charities is being offered to help those societies facing particular challenges and it will also be useful and beneficial when clear documentation and guidelines are in place on how to publish with different publishers and societies whilst being fully compliant with Plan S. 

Time and flexibility as well as direction and input from both publishers and researchers are all needed to bring about sustainable change and allow publishers and societies to remain competitive. At this stage it is difficult to get a grasp on timings without seeing how quickly funders, institutions and authors will adapt to the new Open Access policies and directives. Discussions and preparations continue as the industry sees how Plan S can bring about a sustainable open research environment alongside the successful promotion of Open Access.

Devneet Atherton