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EU sets 2020 target for Open Access science research

Competitiveness Council meeting discussing Open Access agenda for 2020.
Competitiveness Council. Photo Credit: EU

The published results of all research supported by public or public-private funds must be made freely available to all by 2020, science and innovation ministers from across the EU agreed at the Competitiveness Council meeting last week.

The Council also urged the scientific community, including funders, to change the way scientists are generally assessed in terms of the number of publications and citations, and paying instead closer attention to the societal impact of their research.

An EU press statement released on the subject notes: "The results of publicly funded research are currently not accessible to people outside universities and knowledge institutions. As a result, teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs do not have access to the latest scientific insights that are so relevant to their work, and universities have to take out expensive subscriptions with publishers to gain access to publications.

"From 2020, all scientific publications on the results of publicly funded research must be freely available. It also must be able to optimally reuse research data. To achieve that, the data must be made accessible, unless there are well-founded reasons for not doing so, for example intellectual property rights or security or privacy issues."

This new EU commitment and related Guidelines to Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data in Horizon 2020 mark a major boost to the argument in favor of open science and collaboration, and the free and accessible reuse of research data and knowledge by everyone without technological and subscription restrictions.

The EU ministers agreed “to the best possible reuse of research data as a way to accelerate the transition towards an open science system.”

This means that researchers can decide to make the results of their work freely available and accessible using both routes identified by the Open Access movement:

  • The Gold Route: the research is published in an Open Access Journal or on a Journal which gives an open access option, or
  • The Green Route: the pre-print version of the research manuscript is deposited in an internal and harvestable archive.

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems had produced Open Access Explained, a short guidance for scientists on the benefits of Open Access to publish research outputs and results. It answers the most common questions that researchers have on Open Access and provides some quick practical steps to ensure research outputs are published Open Access.

This recent EU commitment and communication to Open Access is certainly very important. However, this commitment is confined to it being merely a recommendation to suggest what is desired rather than a strong law to be upheld and enforced.

In other words, this means that every EU member state is free to adopt its own mechanisms based on their own research and innovation systems. On the other hand, the EU needs to pay attention to and lead the discussions on the fees that reputable Journals charge to make already published articles Open Access. These fees continue to be quite steep and research and academic institutions can not really afford to meet these fees due to their already limited research budgets and the long time restrictions on the right to self-archive that several Journals still require. Until these issues are addressed, it will be difficult to ensure Open Access becomes the default option by 2020 for all research that is supported by public and public-private funding

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) for example has launched a serious policy on Open Access and put aside a large amount of money to help cover the costs associated with Open Access publishing, According to its policy, researchers who do not make their research results freely accessible and available are penalized in future grant applications or through withholding the final tranche of grant funding.

The CGIAR must follow the example of DFID and take a strong and proactive approach to enabling and enforcing Open Access within its all research centres and programs.  The Open Access requirements from donors are here to stay and likely to get stronger with time, so if the CGIAR wants to attract new funding for its research it must do all that it can to make the results of its scientific research on agriculture free and easily accessible via the different Open Access routes. It is undisputable that instant, free, and easy access to all research can only generate more and better knowledge and interdisciplinary collaboration to help solve complex global challenges (such as climate change, poverty, nutrition security, migration, etc.) and improve the livelihoods of millions of through scientific discoveries and innovation.

After all, isn’t this the ultimate goal of science to serve and benefit humanity and its progress?

About the author

Francesca Re Manning is the Intellectual Property (IP) & Legal Manager at ICARDA and legal consultant to the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.