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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.

The intention of Plan S is to disrupt the academic publishing sector and to reform unsustainable journal business models. We expect that many journals will flip to become Plan S compliant. Plan S is due to come into force from 1 January 2020.

Some funders have signed up to Plan S, including United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome. Plan S funders will no longer cover the cost of open access publishing in subscription journals (called “Hybrid OA”). Wellcome have already updated their OA policy to incorporate Plan S, to come into force on 1 January 2020.

There is likely to be a grace period that allows researchers to publish in hybrid journals, if the publisher has signed a “transformative agreement” to change to full open access. After that, Plan S funders will only provide funds for publications that make articles immediately accessible upon publication (with no embargo) and publish under an open licence, like CC-BY. Article processing charges (APCs) will have a price cap applied.

Green open access publishing may be compliant with Plan S if the output is immediately available, with no embargo and an open licence, like CC-BY.

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.

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.