The EC FP7 Post-Grant Open Access Pilot: An Attempt to Implement Fair Gold Open Access

Guest post by Pablo de Castro, Open Access Project Officer, LIBER

A new Gold OA funding initiative has been launched earlier this year by the European Commission: the FP7 Post-Grant Open Access Pilot. This initiative, which is being implemented under the OpenAIRE2020 project, will use its EUR 4m budget to fund OA publishing fees for publications arising from over 8,000 completed FP7 projects covering the whole European Union and neighbouring countries – a large subset of which feature British institutions among its partners.

This post-grant Pilot aims to test the need for additional funding once the FP7 projects finish and their grants are over. Publications will very often arise after the project end-date, so this is an instrument for supporting the Open Access publishing of research articles and monographs for which the projects and their researchers may no longer have any available budget.

The biggest challenges the project team have identified thus far lie in the sheer geographic coverage of the initiative and in the radically different approaches towards Gold Open Access that co-exist across Europe. The scale issues will be addressed by relying on the comprehensive network of professionals, institutions and their best practices in Open Access implementation and dissemination that OpenAIRE provides. The
Pilot partner network – which includes the Jisc in the UK, SURF in The Netherlands, the University of Göttingen in Germany and the University of Athens in Greece under the coordination of LIBER in The Hague – will also contribute to meet the need to reach out to eligible researchers and projects across the whole Continent.

The second big challenge involves the need for this Pilot to operate under the three main different scenarios for Gold OA implementation identified by the network of institutions taking part in the project kick-off stage, as described in the slide below which was presented and discussed last June at the Gold Open Access Pilot workshop at the LIBER Annual Conference in London.

Gold OA funding landscape

In order to deal with this fragmented funding landscape, the Pilot will try to promote a specific brand of fair Gold OA that aligns with the highest possible number of funders’ policies across the Continent. There is a well-acknowledged divide in the way Gold OA is being presently implemented in Europe: while UK funders like RCUK or the Wellcome Trust/COAF will fund APCs in both fully Open Access and hybrid journals applying no funding cap to their eligibility criteria, European funders like the German DFG, the Norwegian Research Council, the Austrian FWF and the Dutch NWO will all either rule out or restrict funding for hybrid journals and often establish funding caps.

The eligibility criteria for this FP7 Post-Grant OA Pilot will then exclude funding for hybrid journals and set a €2,000 funding cap for research articles and a €6,000 one for monographs and edited volumes. Besides this, the policy requires a CC-BY licence, a text-minable file version besides the standard PDF one and their deposit into an OpenAIRE-compliant repository. This policy for funding APCs is then coupled to an alternative APC-equivalent funding mechanism which aims to also fund APC-free OA journals as a means to address the wider scope of Gold Open Access, which does not just involve the APC-based business model.

Thorough discussions held on such policy both within the project partner group and with an extensive selection of external reviewers highlighted the severe risk of underspending that ruling out funding for hybrid titles would pose, and in fact the results of the first two months of Pilot operation show this as a looming threat on the initiative. However, the project has only just started and the summertime season means there’s less activity: data on the next report due end-of-Sep will surely look more encouraging. But there is a clear need anyway for institutions to support the dissemination of the initiative towards their eligible researchers and projects and to help them navigate the potentially obscure policy requirements (despite the strong recommendation included in the policy guidelines that authors should check with their institutional Library or Research Office before submitting a funding request, plenty of funding applications are arriving for articles accepted at hybrid journals, which are systematically turned down much to the author’s occasional dismay). The Pilot coordination – which may be reached here (email) – is keen to support the outreach work at institutions by delivering eligible FP7 project lists where useful or by providing any additional assistance – a support service that the Jisc will also be able to provide as OpenAIRE National Access Desk (NOAD) for the UK.

Should this initiative manage to safely clear the perilous strait between the Scyllean Green Open Access that OpenAIRE is understandably very keen on and the Charybdian threat of the often ill-informed dismissal of any kind of Gold OA as commercial publisher-friendly and prone to double-dipping, this would be very good news for the Open Access community. The success of this initiative would mean a way to implement a reasonably well-aligned policy that will eventually drive down APC costs by promoting a cultural change in the publishing habits. The opportunity UKCoRR have kindly offered to further disseminate this funding initiative to institutions where the mechanisms are often already in place to provide researchers the support they require is greatly appreciated.

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