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Plan S and the UC-Elsevier Negotiations—Publication as Part of Research Funding

Last Updated on March 8, 2019, 5:48 pm ET

Guest post by Judy Ruttenberg, program director, ARL

The first quarter of 2019 is replete with open access significance—from the public comment filings on Plan S, to the news last week that the University of California canceled its system-wide subscription to Elsevier journals over the company’s unwillingness to meet a set of faculty-endorsed principles of scholarly communication. The full set of principles is a magnificent document, made all the more powerful as an expression of faculty and senior university administration will. But one aspect in particular marks a noteworthy shift within the research community—a recognition that fully funding research ought to include the open dissemination of that research. Plan S was conceived by a group of national research councils. The UC proposed agreement included an explicit commitment on the part of the university to fund open dissemination of research (through publishing fees) when external funding isn’t present.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) just published its annual “Higher Education R&D Spending” report. In 2016, “academic institutions spent $72 billion on R&D.” While the largest source of funds comes from the federal government, at slightly more than half which are essential to the advancement of science and research, “higher education institutions [themselves] funded 25% of total academic R&D in 2016.” Universities, along with the federal government, state and local governments, and business, are significant research funders. “Universities not only fund research through grants and other forms of direct financial support, they also pay the salaries/benefits of faculty members and other employees who conduct research, as well as providing labs, equipment, technology, etc. that make research possible,” said Shan Sutton, Dean of Libraries at the University of Arizona. “This positions universities as essential funders of research that could implement requirements and infrastructure for the open dissemination of the resulting research outputs.”

What if universities collectively agreed to the same principles as the Plan S coalition and the UC—that fully funding research also means funding open, immediate dissemination? When we talk about academy-owned, or scholar-led publishing—inclusive of text, data, materials, software, etc.—we would do well to remember that nearly one quarter of R&D is funded by universities. And that’s just STEM.[1] Universities fund a much higher percentage of research in the humanities and social sciences, where open access increases reach, readership, and impact in critical arenas such as policy and civic society.

In partnership with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses), ARL is leading a five-year pilot project to flip the financing of humanities and social science (HSS) monographs. Under the TOME initiative, participating universities are providing $15,000 grants to their HSS faculty to publish their monographs openly through participating university presses. Having supported their faculty up to the point of publication, in other words, participating TOME institutions are also funding the open publication of the research, and supporting academy-owned presses in the process.

Changing the premise of scholarly publishing from paying to read, to paying to publish, is a subject of complex debate at the level of implementation (who pays, by what mechanism, how much, and how to ensure global equity of access to publishing). And there are different models on the table. But at the level of principle, we can take a moment to celebrate what the UC system achieved—faculty, student, library, and university-administrator support for the open dissemination of research as part of the cost of doing research.

[1]  In descending order of magnitude: life sciences, engineering, physical sciences, geosciences, social sciences, computer sciences, psychology, and mathematical sciences. (March 2019, NSF 19-303 https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2019/nsf19303/nsf19303.pdf)