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5 years Plan S: Stay the course!


In the following opinion piece, Robert-Jan Smits, Europe’s former Open Access Envoy and one of the main architects of Plan S, reflects on the five years of the initiative and shares his thoughts on its future direction. The post was initially published on ResearchProfessional News. Robert-Jan Smits will be one of the panellists at our “Plan S @ 5” webinar on November 2, 2023.

PLAN S, a game changer

On 4 September it is exactly 5 years ago that a group of twelve European funding agencies supported by the European Commission presented a radical plan – PLAN S – to accelerate the transition to full and immediate Open Access to scientific publications. For more than 30 years, researchers and science policy makers had agreed to the idea of making research results ‘Open Access‘, but progress had been slow. The plan was founded on the principles that scientific publications resulting from research funded by public grants MUST be published immediately and in fully compliant Open Access journals or platforms for all to read. The rationale for these funders to take action was crystal clear: knowledge generated with the support of the public purse should be accessible to society at large and not be locked behind paywalls for the happy few to have access to. Furthermore, the system of subscription based journals was costing the tax payer a fortune each year, notably through the high subscription fees that academic libraries had to pay to a small group of large commercial publishers.
The case for Open Access became utterly clear when the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly across the globe and the science community was mobilized to look for medication and vaccines. From day one, research results and data were shared and made available in real time by both academia and industry to win the race against the clock. And the commercial publishers took their responsibility by joining in and abolishing their paywalls. It would have even been unethical if they would not have done so, with certainly a public outcry as a result. When the pandemic was over, there was therefore every reason to make Open Access the new normal and not return to the old situation. As I often said myself in those days: if we had Open Access to help beat the virus, why not use it to tackle the other grand societal challenges we are facing, from climate change to food security and from the energy transition to social inequality. Although at that time no one really disagreed with this, it proved once again that old habits die hard.

>> Read the full opinion piece by clicking here [pdf].

Robert-Jan Smits

Robert-Jan Smits is the President of the Eindhoven University of Technology (since May 2019). Prior to this, he was the Director-General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission (2010-2018). In this capacity he was the architect of Horizon 2020 and has also been instrumental in shaping the successor program Horizon Europe. In his last year in Brussels, Robert-Jan Smits was the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission and developed concrete policy proposals aimed to ensure that all academic publications resulting from publicly funded research are widely available and accessible through Open Access.