Research Funders and Open Access Mandates

More and more funders are now including Open Access mandates in their contractual conditions. Why are they doing this, and what can grantees do to comply with these mandates? Catherine Brendow, the OA specialist in the library, helps us to understand.

The goal of mandates

The main aim of these mandates is to make sure that research financed by public funds is accessible to the public for free, and not locked behind paywalls. Funders generally make it compulsory for grantees to publish their research in open access (OA) journals, or to make their articles available in OA repositories, at most with a limited embargo.

In Switzerland, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), requires since the beginning of 2020 that its grantees make the results of their research open access, either by publishing in an open access journal or by placing them in an open-access repository such as the Graduate Institute repository, with a maximum embargo of up to 6 months for a journal article and 12 months for a book.

Option 1: the Gold road

You can publish in a pure open access journal, with or without APCs. The SNSF can finance your article processing charges (APC) to publish in these. The Directory of Open Access Journals is a “white list” of peer-reviewed open access journals which can be trusted.

Some journals are considered hybrid, meaning they are subscription journals in which some articles can be made open access after payment of an APC. The SNSF does not finance APCs for hybrid journals. This is due to a strong suspicion that hybrid journals might practice double dipping, by pocketing APCs without reducing subscription prices. Furthermore, hybrid journals generally charge higher APCs than pure OA journals.

The SNSF policy is certainly not an exception: most funders have similar policies. ROARMAP, the Registry of Open Access Mandates and Policies, gives information about the policies of 86 funders.

Option 2: the Green road

Publishing in a subscription journal generally requires signing an agreement transferring the copyright, which originally belongs to the author(s), to the publisher. It is strongly recommended to read this agreement before signing it, especially in the case of an OA mandate.

Many publishers of traditional journals will let you publish a version of your article on your institution’s repository. Generally, the version you will be able to archive will be the postprint, aka “author accepted manuscript”, that is to say, the article after peer-reviewing, but before type-setting and formatting for publication. While it will look different from the journal version, its contents will be identical.

Publishing this version in our repository will fulfill your funder’s OA mandate (as long as you do not apply an embargo of more than 6 months), and will also make the OA version of your article findable easily through Unpaywall and other very useful tools.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Many researchers find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, with a funder requiring a maximum embargo of 6 months, and a subscription journal having a longer embargo period. If the case arises, you should ask to change some details, such as the length of the embargo period, to make it compatible with the funder’s requirement. Of course, the publisher needs to agree with these changes (and so do the co-authors).

Some researchers may feel uncomfortable negotiating, but the fact that it is a requirement of the funder is a very good reason to do it. Remember that these OA mandates are now very common, so your request will not be so unusual. Some funders, such as those belonging to the Plan S initiative, are currently putting pressure on publishers to make them change their policies.

You may also wish to use the SPARC author addendum, which includes more extensive changes than just the shortening of the embargo period. Success is far from guaranteed, but it is still worth trying, at least to show your funder that you did your best. And if you have already signed without asking for any change, you can and should still ask your publisher for permission.

Do not forget that apart from complying with your funder’s requirements, putting your article open access makes it more discoverable and accessible to researchers around the world, increasing your chances of being cited.


Do you want to know more? Read Catherine’s open access libguide and feel free to ask your librarians for advice! You can also join Catherine’s presentation on OA publishing tomorrow (Thursday, November 26, 2020) at 8:45 CET.

Illustration: SNSF

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