Plan S, QA2020 and Open Science
‘Plan S is a grand plan, but the devil is in the detail,’ says Professor Robin Crewe of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Initiated in 2018 by 12 European countries, the Plan, driven by funders, will impact South African institutions. It substitutes barriers to reading with barriers to authorship. The 13 European funding agencies (known as cOAlition S) require research to be published in compliant open access (OA) journals from 2020 onwards.
My recent article, The geography of Plan S open science in the South African Journal of Science (117, third quarter, 2021) notes that Universities SA (USAf) is working with OA2020, an initiative aligned with Plan S, but devised by researchers rather than funders. OA2020 argues that, ‘the existing corpus of scholarly journals should be converted from subscription to open access’ and that, ‘this transition process can be realised within the framework of currently available resources’ (oa2020.org/mission/).
South African institutions that have directly endorsed OA2020 include the University of the Free State, the University of Witwatersrand, the South African National Library and Information Consortium, the National School of Government, and the Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management, as have the rest implicitly via the USAf initiative.
The OA2020 argument assumes that scholars publish for impact, rather than for money. If the ‘devil is in the detail’, this assumption is brought into question by the unintended effects of the well-intentioned Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) publishing incentive that has enabled South African universities to position their researchers as relentless rent-seekers.
Academic labour occurs within a scholarly community, a bureaucracy and a corporation. Plan S and OA2020 add another overlay to these often contradictory sites of labour, production and consumption. For example, Plan S requires that academic authors (or their institutions) pay to be published. Plan S aims to ‘accelerate the transition to a scholarly publishing system that is characterised by immediate, free online access to, and largely unrestricted use and re-use of scholarly publications’ (Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science).
Overall, research could split into potentially incompatible research coalitions, namely, a) the traditional global subscription model, b) the European Plan S silo; and c) the Open Knowledge for Latin America and the GlobalSouth (AmeliCA) university-based communication infrastructure option. Part of the OA environment is the increasing number of English-language journals licensed by Chinese universities to European publishers, capping OA budgets. However, as of 2020, Plan S signatories only represented 5% of global research output.
Plan S requires that scientists with grants from the 25 participating funders must immediately make the resulting papers free to read and publish them under a liberal licence so that anyone can download, reuse or republish them. Researchers can publish their final paper OA in a journal, or make the accepted, peer-reviewed version of their manuscript available online in an approved repository. cOAlition S has rolled out a “Journal Checker Tool” that promises to let researchers see their compliant publishing options for any journal (www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00883-6 and scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2021/02/17/rights-retention-strategy/). While authors will retain their rights to such work, these provisions would seem to permit runaway re-use and re-publication over which the authors and journal would lose control, possibly opening the door to plagiarism, cloning and other kinds of re-use. How does an author retain their rights under such circumstances?
At 1%, South Africa has already committed to developing OA, with ASSAf’s SciELO SA providing an electronic OA platform for its 81 participating journals (of a total of about 320). Journals are considered for inclusion in SciELO SA when they have received a favourable evaluation from ASSAf’s journal quality peer-review panel.
However, SciELO is not a funding mechanism. OA2020’s argues that legacy publishers are hoarding and monetising public knowledge, allegedly preventing readers from gaining access. At the social level, says USAf’s Ahmed Bawa, there is ’growing unaffordability even for our research-focused institutions’. The huge inequalities in access in our system and ‘the growing disconnect between society and “science”’ need to be addressed.
While most support OA, the questions that need to be asked are: Is Plan S yet another Northern imposition on the South? Will Plan S ringfence EU research only for funding, and restrict permission to publish? For Lyn Kamerlin, the Plan S ‘embargo requirements and repository technical requirements … are so draconian that paid-for gold becomes the easiest way to fulfil them.’. It thus simply flips who pays, entrenching for-profit publishing firms.
Globally, non-compatible ecosystems of research reporting might emerge – what will be legitimate for one system’s reporting requirements could be declared illegitimate in the other. This is already the case in the way that the DHET incentive, as applied by universities, herds South African authors into particular qualifying, mostly English-language indexing lists.
By limiting the legacy publishers with their added values of peer review, plagiarism and libel checks, cross-referencing, copy editing, legal protection, ethical regimes, marketing and so on, further opportunities will be opened to ever opportunistic predators. Differential access will result in inequality in publishing opportunities based on geographic location and funding availability. This means that the cost of publishing rather than the quality of research will decide where and what research is published.
AmeliCA wants a ‘collaborative, non-commercial, sustainable and non-subordinated’ system returned to the academy. Under this scenario, the DHET would require universities to invest in infrastructure and technology for science communication – ie, journals – to be located within universities, and to delink from ‘legitimation systems’ like Scopus and Web of Science. But, then the ASSAf-identified problem of “house journals”, and the DHET requirement of “accreditation”, could be exacerbated in an already overprovisioned local environment.
Kamerlin adds that, ‘openness … needs to be community driven, not funder driven’. In the event of an aligned Plan S and OA2020, the DHET incentive will have to shift from rewarding universities (and their authors) to awarding APCs to journals for articles approved for publication. South African journals are currently excluded from the DHET funding value chain and themselves subsidise the publication of research at no or small cost to authors, universities and the state.
The question is, in light of the corporatisation of academic labour, who will be supported, and how will under-funded authors be assured of access? That is, which authors, which journals, and which paradigms? These questions are on everyone’s lips, but the answers are not yet clear.
Should not the scientist’s academic freedom remain at arm’s length of the state, funders and universities? And, should we not be publishing for social and disciplinary impact, not just DHET monetary incentives? These are some of the issues that my SA Journal of Science commentary addresses (council.science/current/blog/plan-s-is-a-grand-plan-but-the-devil-is-in-the-detail-robin-crewe-on-open-access-in-south-africa/).
Keyan G Tomaselli’s new book, Contemporary Campus Life: Transformation, Managerialism and Academentia (HSRC Press, BestRed imprint, 2021) is based on his UKZN Griot columns published between 2010 and 2019. A UKZN Emeritus Professor and Fellow, he is currently based in the Dean’s Office, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg. He is also the Chair of the ASSAf Committee on Scholarly Publishing.
*The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.