Plan S start date delayed to January 2021

Plan S start date delayed to January 2021

International research funder consortium cOAlition S has delayed the start date of Plan S – the controversial initiative which had aimed to make all government-funded research Open Access from January 2020 – by a year. The formal starting-point for its mandates will now be January 2021.

In a series of revisions made to the Plan S implementation guidance following consultation with stakeholders, the consortium announced the date change, saying the revised timetable “provides more time for researchers, institutions, publishers and repositories to adjust to the required changes and for funders’ policies to develop and take effect.”

But the Publishers Association warned that "very significant concerns around the scale, speed and potential unintended consequences of its implementation remain", while the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) described the revised timeline as "still very ambitious,"

Under the revised guidelines the transition period will now continue until 2024, with cOAlition S set to carry out a formal review to examine the effects of Plan S by the end of that year.

The new guidelines also place a strong emphasis on transformative agreements. “The coalition has been impressed by the significant move from university consortia and research institutions…to establish publisher level transformative agreements,” the guidelines noted. “Many countries and consortia of research institutions are taking the route of transformative agreements and are either cancelling subscription contracts or signing read-and-publish or publish-and-read agreements with publishers. These agreements transform today’s scholarly journals from subscription to Open Access publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences.”

But the coalition warned on transparency about publishing costs. "It remains our view, as set out previously in our guidance on implementation, that transparency about costs should inform the negotiations between publishers and research organisations, universities, and funders. As funders it is our aim to ensure cost-effectiveness in the research funding system so that public spending on research is financially and morally justifiable. We reiterate our desire for such transparency and our willingness, if necessary, to consider cost controls in our grant award processes (by imposing caps on our funding of charges for publication services)." 

The new guidelines also make no concessions on the coalition’s opposition to hybrid journals, a point which has been opposed by some publishers. “Some respondents made a case that we should reconsider our view that, over several years, hybrid journals have not succeeded in delivering full and immediate Open Access at reasonable cost,” the coalition said. “However we have yet to see evidence which refutes our view…. Our position is that we will not fund Open Access publication charges in hybrid journals outside of transformative arrangements…”

Learned Societies, which face particular issues in transitioning their publishing to OA, are picked out for special mention in the revised guidelines. “We are pleased that the project commissioned by Wellcome, UK Research and Innovation, and the Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) to support learned society publishers to transition to Open Access and align with Plan S, is identifying many different models which would support Societies’ transition to full and immediate Open Access,” the coalition said. “We commit to working further on the practical aspects of supporting such a transition.”    

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, commented: “Publishers are fully committed to Open Access and UK academic publishing has been at the forefront of the global movement to open up access to research. But any policy changes need to be sustainable for all parties – publishers, funders, universities and researchers. We need time and flexibility to adapt our business models and the landscape needs to remain competitive.

“Although there are some constructive clarifications made to the revised Plan S guidance issued today, very significant concerns around the scale, speed and potential unintended consequences of its implementation remain. Moving too fast and without enough flexibility built in risks damaging the whole academic research ecosystem. We look forward to working with UKRI as they prepare to conduct their own Open Access review and hope the ultimate outcome of this process is a policy sustainable for everyone.”

At the ALPSP, chief executive Wayne Sime said: "ALPSP is glad to see specific mention of Learned Societies and the Wellcome-UKRI-ALPSP  Society Publishers Accelerating Open access and Plan S project in the updated Plan S Rationale. We welcome the inclusion of a greater number of routes to compliance including transformational journals, the acknowledgement of the need for CC BY non-derivative’ licences for some scholarly works and the move towards price transparency in preference to APC caps. However, we believe that while there is now a later start date, the timeline is still very ambitious, particularly given the need for strategy alignment in relation to research assessment. We note also that areas remain where implications of implementation will need to be considered further, for example in relation to international collaborations. We look forward to continued dialogue with cOalition S to ensure that the value of community-led publishing in advancing knowledge and innovation continues to be recognized."

Among the major publishers, Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer at Springer Nature, commented: “We are and continue to be committed to the fastest and most effective route to immediate OA for all primary research and we welcome the inclusion by cOAlition S of some of our most recent feedback in their revised guidance. Placing at the heart of their guidance transformative deals and expanding transitional arrangements to include transformative journals, as we proposed in May, and which could enable us to introduce an OA option on Nature, will go a long way to delivering the sustainable transition to OA that we all want to see achieved. 

He said: "Committing to reviewing, at the end of 2024, all aspects of the effects of Plan S’s principles is a good and natural action given the scale of changes and remaining uncertainties we all face." But he warned: “Since the speed at which funders and institutions fund OA and authors take up OA is simply not in the control of publishers, the inclusion of a deadline which seeks to predict the outcome of the review is, we believe, potentially counterproductive. For example, even before Plan S principles start to be effective in 2021 it could soon have a negative effect on the number of institutions willing to enter into three or four year transformative deals."

Inchcoombe added: “We also remain deeply concerned with the approach proposed for Green OA as this could have serious unintended consequences.”

At Wiley, Judy Verses, executive vice president of Research, said: “It’s encouraging that the revised Plan S guidelines acknowledge the important role of transformative agreements in moving towards a sustainable open research environment.  At Wiley, we’ve been proud to lead the way in developing several groundbreaking transformative agreements that meet the specific needs of researchers, funders, societies, and institutions. We’ve learned, though, that one size doesn’t fit all. There are still significant unresolved issues and blanket requirements that would limit our ability to support the advancement of open access across different communities." Verses said Wiley looked forward to  "continuing the conversation with researchers, funders, societies, and institutions during implementation, especially now that everyone will have more time to consider how this should be adapted for their unique circumstances.”

Elsevier's public comment was entirely positive, with  Philippe Terheggen, managing director of STM journals, saying the publisher welcomed the updated guidance. "Elsevier fully supports and promotes Open Access. Authors can achieve full and immediate open access - and so be Plan S compliant - either by publishing their articles in our gold open access journals, or by publishing their articles gold open access in our hybrid journals. We welcome that cOAlition S recognises these as channels for scientists to publish their research. We will provide practical guidelines for authors before Plan S goes live in 2021, so that it’s clear how to publish in Elsevier journals while also being Plan S compliant."

Meanwhile at SAGE, David Ross, a.v.p. for Open Research, gave the HSS perspective, commenting: "We are pleased to see the implementation taskforce taking on board feedback from SAGE and other parties. The allowance of the CC BY-ND licensing on request is an important concession for authors in the humanities and social sciences."