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Universities embrace principle of open access but have concerns about the right way to do it

Dutch universities are happy that open access to scientific and academic publications has the explicit support and attention of the Dutch government. Universities accept that the 'gold route' that Secretary of State Dekker wants to follow is ultimately the most future-proof. At the same time, in a letter to the trustees the institutions refer to the risk of significant additional costs for universities, the importance of the right agreements with publishers and the starting point for an international level playing field.

 

Universities are great advocates of open access and ten years ago were among the first to embrace this movement, supporting it in every conceivable way. Setting up repositories, conducting targeted policy to encourage researchers to file their publications in these repositories, and releasing funds to promote open access publishing, are examples of this. In an international context too, the institutions have done the needful, and as a result open access will become the standard in Horizon 2020.

A recent report from the European Commission reveals that at least 58 percent of Dutch scientific and academic output is freely accessible. The VSNU is pleased that those efforts will also, from now on, have the support of the Secretary of State; in particular that he is keen to enter into discussion on an international basis with like-minded countries. Because that, ultimately, is where the key to a real swing towards open access lies.

In short, there are two routes to open access: a gold route and a green route. The green route is based on 'self-archiving'. After publication a researcher places an article in a repository (mostly belonging to the university), making the publication freely accessible to the rest of the world. Associated with this, publishers do sometimes stipulate an embargo period, during which the article can only be read in a journal. In the gold route the publication is made directly freely available via the publisher's website. On acceptance of the article the researcher or his/her employer pays a certain amount to the publisher for this.

In his letter to Parliament, Secretary of State Dekker made a clear choice in favour of the gold route, making reference to Dame Finch's report published in the UK. Universities point out that this route is ultimately preferable but that it is not without its problems and is sure to lead to significant extra costs. Costs that will have to be borne primarily by the universities. In the transition phase universities will also have to pay for the scientific and academic output from other countries, via subscriptions and licences, although they will not have to pay for articles written by their own scientific and academic staff.

This issue of 'double dipping' will increase in line with the speed at which countries make the transition to open access. This underlines the crucial importance of international cooperation in the transition to open access. It is therefore important to the universities for the option of the green route to be studied as well during the transition phase.

The role of the publishers also deserves attention. With good reason the Secretary of State expects additional efforts from universities in order to achieve the transition to open access, but at the same time it can be expected of publishers that they make a serious commitment to reaching solid agreements on a proper settlement of licence fees.

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