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Open access explained

Plan S

What is Plan S?

Plan S is an initiative to move more quickly to full and immediate open access for funded research. Plan S is due to come into force from 1 January 2021.

Plan S funders will no longer cover the cost of open access publishing in subscription journals (called “Hybrid OA”). Some funders have already signed up to Plan S, including United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome. Wellcome have updated their OA policy to incorporate Plan S from 1 January 2021.

From 1st January 2021 Plan S funders won’t fund APCs for Hybrid journals unless they have signed up to a "transformative agreement" or "transformative journal" to change their business model to full open access. From 2024 Plan S funders will cease funding APCs for hybrid altogether. You can publish in any journal, hybrid or subscription, that allows repository deposit with zero embargo. This is green open access and incurs no charge.

There will now be no price caps applied to APCs, though journals will need to be transparent about costs and provide detailed descriptions of editorial policies. There must be a system of robust peer review that adheres to the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines.

Find out about the 10 principles of Plan S.

What action do I need to take?

Continue to upload your accepted manuscript via Symplectic as soon as you are accepted for publication to meet UKRI requirements for REF2021.

Our block grant can cover APCs for UKRI and COAF funded research while funds remain. But we encourage you to use the green route wherever possible when you decide where to publish.

Contact the Research Support Team to discuss the options for specific journals in your discipline.

Our approach to open access at Leeds hasn’t changed. Research England has stated that Plan S will not affect REF 2021 policy.

The details of Plan S are still being developed. We will update this information as Plan S progresses.

Why is Plan S needed?

The principle of Plan S is that research that has already cost money to publish, should not be locked behind paywalls. The intention of Plan S is to disrupt the academic publishing sector and to reform unsustainable journal business models.

Existing mandates and policies have accelerated the open access movement but hybrid has become the dominant form of open access publishing. The average cost of a hybrid APC is significantly more than in “pure” open access journals.

The rising cost of APCs makes open access publishing unsustainable. In 2013/14 the average APC was £1,580 rising to £1,988 in 2016/17 (UKRI figures (PDF)). In 2017/18 the University spent over £664,000 on just 316 UKRI funded APCs, an average of £2,100. 219 of these were hybrid, with an average individual cost of £2,287. The average pure gold APC cost £1,684.

Hybrid journals also generate greater income by what is known as double dipping. RLUK defines this as where “a publisher seeks an unwarrantable increase in revenues by levying article processing charges (APCs) for publication in a hybrid journal, while not providing a proportionate decrease in subscription costs”.

A criticism of Plan S is that it restricts academic freedom by limiting the choice of where and how to publish. But commercial publishers already enforce embargo periods that restrict access to the scholarly literature.

Some journals increased their embargo period to prevent sharing via the “green” route, forcing the payment of an APC to meet selected funder requirements. Some publishers have shown a more positive response, for example Emerald has removed embargoes altogether.

Transformative Agreements

A transformative agreement is a contract between a publisher and a library, or library consortia. They aim to shift from a subscription model to paying to publish open access.

Editors should engage with journal boards to influence the transition to open access. The University of California has issued guides and checklists for editors.

Jisc is negotiating with UK publishers to help meet Plan S requirements through transformative agreements.


A publish-and-read arrangement is where we pay for publishing costs with read access to the journal included.


Read-and-publish is a model where a publisher bundles the costs for both journal access and publishing into a single contract. For example, the University of Leeds is a participating institution in the Springer Compact agreement. This means that Leeds authors can publish in over 1,850 Springer Hybrid journals without article processing charges.

Journal editors can discuss transforming business models to open access with Jisc.

Transformative Journals

A transformative journal is classed as a subscription/hybrid journal which has committed to convert to a fully open access journal, demonstrating a year on year growth (5% in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms) of Open Access content and offsetting subscription income from payments for publishing services.

The transformative journal must also inform its authors on the number of downloads, altmetrics and citations of their works and produce an annual report showing the comparison of usage information between the Open Access articles and existing subscription content. This annual report should be presented on the journal’s website.

Nature has signed up as a Plan S transformative journal.

If you are a journal editor wishing to become Plan S complaint, you can apply for transformative journal status.

Zero Embargo Journal Policies

A subscription journal can also meet Plan S criteria. It must permit the author to deposit their accepted manuscript in a compliant repository at the point of publication. An embargo period is not allowed.

Publishers including Sage and Emerald have already adopted zero embargo journal policies.

Diamond Open Access

Diamond OA is when there are no article processing charges, read-and-publish or publish-and-read deals in place. Instead, costs for open access are through donation, crowd funding or grants. This might be a viable option for not-for-profit publishers.