The European Research Council withdraws support for open-access publishing initiative Plan S

Jessica Brown
July 22, 2020

The European Research Council (ERC) announced on Friday that it would be withdrawing its support for Plan S, the open-access initiative spearheaded by the international consortium of research funders known as cOAlition S.

The plan— which goes into effect January 1, 2021— mandates that all “scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants, provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies,” must be fully published in open-access journals or repositories immediately upon completion. This differs from the current standard in publicly-funded research, which generally requires such research be made publicly available within 6-12 months of completion.

To help researchers and funders align with the requirements of Plan S, cOAlition S unveiled their Rights Retention Strategy early last week, a framework through which researchers retain the rights to their work, in order to then publish the work in open-access journals. The Strategy requires cOAlition S organizations to change their grant conditions to require a Creative Commons Attribution license — that is, permission to “copy and redistribute material in any medium or format” — for any original research reporting supported by their funding. Further, under the Strategy, cOAlition S grant agreements will require authors (or their sponsoring organizations) to retain enough intellectual property rights to enable compliance with the open-access requirements of Plan S.

“The COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown that embargo periods are indefensible,” writes Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe and Chair of the cOAlition S Leaders Group. “No private or business interests can justify that new and original research results are held back for 6 or 12 months from other scientists, practitioners, governments and authorities, medical staff…especially [for] those who are economically disadvantaged, who cannot afford expensive access tolls.”

Despite their involvement in drafting the plan, however, the European Research Council announced on Monday that they would be withdrawing their support for it, citing among their concerns the effect of Plan S requirements on early career researchers, and maintaining financial equality across European regions: “[T]he ERC Scientific Council wishes to pay closer attention to a number of aspects whose importance has been rather underestimated…especially those of young researchers who represent the future of European science and innovation. Other aspects include the need to preserve equity among research communities and among European countries,” they said in a statement.

The ERC was one of the earliest organizations to support cOAlition S, along with thirteen other national funders and charitable foundations, as well as the European Commission. The ERC's governing Scientific Council reiterated its commitment to open access and Plan S, despite its decision to step back, saying that it is “…committed to implementing full and immediate Open Access and continues to support the principles underlying Plan S…However, during the past six months, the ERC Scientific Council has intensified its internal debate and reached a unanimous decision to follow a path towards Open Access implementation that is independent of cOAlition S activities.”

cOAlition S responded swiftly to the move by the ERC, pointing out their partnership with various early career researcher organizations throughout the development of the plan. “These organisations are closely collaborating with cOAlition S in order to further shape Plan S, to monitor its implementation, and to evaluate potential effects for the next generation of researchers.”

It is unclear whether this split will affect the intended roll-out of Plan S; however, cOAlition S struck an optimistic tone about the future collaboration with the ERC: “In 2018, the ERC Scientific Council was involved in drafting Plan S, and in 2019 they warmly welcomed the updated Plan S and implementation guidelines. We are confident that there is broad agreement on our respective approaches and that the cOAlition S’ and the ERC Scientific Council’s strategies towards Open Access will eventually converge.”


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