Universal access to up-to-date knowledge is one of the foundations for the development of democratic societies. This conviction underpins the concept of open access, i.e. the free online publication of the conclusions of scientific research which has been financed from public funds. The policy of open access has also been adopted by the most important scientific agencies in Europe, united under the aegis of Coalition S.
At the same time, however, it should be noted that the publishing market for scientific journals in Europe is dominated by a limited number of publishers. This translates into prices for open access publications which are not only varied and high (up to USD 4 000), but also do not seem to correspond to actual publishing costs. Meanwhile, the high cost of open-access publications leads to a reduction in the amount of public funds that can be allocated to scientific research. This is particularly problematic for young researchers, especially as it is often the researchers themselves who are responsible for negotiating and paying publication costs.
On 20 October 2020, Polish Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Magdalena Adamowicz of the Group of the European People’s Party, addressed a parliamentary question to the European Commission.
In her question MEP Adamowicz asked the Commission “does it plan to support researchers in negotiating prices with publishers or to develop a common strategy for setting prices for open-access publications?” and “what steps will it take to verify whether the way in which scientific journals are priced by publishers is compliant with EU competition rules?”
On 08 December, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, responsible for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, responded on behalf of the European Commission. Firstly, she reassured that “the Commission has been a strong supporter of open access for many years, also through the research Framework Programmes”. She added that “in Horizon 2020, open access to scientific publications is mandatory and, when they occur, article fees are eligible costs” and “rights and obligations for open access will be strengthened in Horizon Europe”.
Commissioner Gabriel explained that “the Commission is aware of the rising costs in scholarly publishing, and the financial difficulties of some institutions in transitioning from subscription-only to paid-open access for all” and “the report of the Expert Group on the Future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication (2019) to the Commission addressed the issue”.
Commissioner Gabriel underlined that “through cOAlition, the Commission participates in stakeholder discussions regarding the development of so-called transformative agreements, to support the transition into a sustainable full open access publishing environment” and “agreements and prices are negotiated at national level, by research institutions/national consortia, directly with scientific publishers and the Commission does not participate in these negotiations, but supports the principle of transparency, which institutions and Member States themselves should strive to maintain in their contracts”.
Commissioner Gabriel highlighted that “it is customary for academic publishers to impose confidentiality clauses in agreements, and institutions very often accept them” and “this, unfortunately, minimises the possibility to have a public and open debate on the practice of pricing in the publishing business”.
Finally, Commissioner Gabriel citied that “the Commission will follow the situation and assess whether measures become necessary” and that “it will continue pushing for price transparency with its partners in Member States and fora such as cOAlition S”.
Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/library-books-floors-stairs-school-1132573/