Over the last month you may have heard about the Plan-S.  Plan-S presents some important changes to academic publishing and open access (OA), which will ultimately result in much more research being freely available faster.   As I’ve been asked a few questions about this recently, I’ve put together this quick guide.

While reading this, please bear in mind that things are at a very early stage and are subject to alteration.  Plan-S is unlikely to affect OA policy and working practices some time yet, and Research England have confirmed that Plan-S does not affect REF 2021.  So while it’s good to be aware that Plan-S is slowly coming into view on the horizon, it’s not something that will affect your work in the immediate future.


So, what is Plan-S? 

Plan-S is a statement of 10 principles which set out the future for Open Access (OA) and publishing academic research.  It is led by cOAlition S, who are a group of the major research funders from 13 European countries, including UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).  The aim is that funders and universities will base their future policies on these 10 principles. Plan-S states –

“After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies [including UKRI], must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”


Although OA has been around for a number of years now, Plan-S aims to address the limitations in the current system.

The purpose of Plan-S is to move away from subscription (hybrid) journals.  Articles in these journals are locked behind paywalls, so research cannot be accessed by the wider world who may benefit from it.  To make matters worse, universities like us pay twice; we pay the subscription fee to access articles, but if we want specific articles to be immediately (gold) OA then we also pay an article processing charges (APC).

The other purpose of Plan-S is to get rid of embargos. Many publishers impose embargos, which means that research can’t be made OA until the embargo (e.g. 12 months) has ended.  Given the fast pace that research develops, embargos can unnecessarily restrict progress.

Unsurprisingly as it affects their profits, publishers have been unwilling to address these problems in the past.  So Plan-S essentially aims to force publishers to address them.  In doing so, Plan-S demonstrates the major funders’ increasingly strong commitment to OA.


A few more details…

There are 10 principles to Plan-S, which the major funders have all signed up to. These are the ones I find interesting are as they have reasonably significant future implications –

  • Research is published under a licence that does not restrict its further distribution or use (e.g. CC-BY) and authors will retain the copyright.
  • APCs will be capped. The amount is yet to be decided.
  • Subscription (hybrid) journals are not compliant with Plan-S.


Although 1st January 2020 is the suggested start date, the details of Plan-S need to be worked out and adjusted by the funders.  As you may imagine, some publishers are concerned about Plan-S as it potentially affects their profit.  Before it will have a tangible impact on individual academics, there’s a lot of work for funders to do with relevant stakeholders, including publishers, in order to achieve a workable solution.  It’s also recognised that there will be a ‘transition’ period after January 2020, so it is very unlikely that there will be immediate changes even after this date.

In terms of REF 2021, Research England (who are part of UKRI) have stated that their OA policy for this REF will remain unchanged.  So please continue with exactly what you have been doing, i.e. uploading your articles to Pure as soon as they’re accepted for publication.

A question has been raised about whether green OA compatible with Plan-S?  (Green OA is when you upload a copy of your article to Pure as soon as it’s been accepted for publication and it is made OA on the Portsmouth Research Portal.)  We believe that green OA is compatible with Plan-S, providing that there is a zero embargo. Plan-S have stated in their 10 Principles (see above) that they value the role of Institutional Repositories, such as Pure.

Plan-S appears to be referring to all publications, including journal articles, books etc. However, it recognises that books and monographs will need some additional thought.  So it’s likely to be some time after 2020 before they are affected, and the exact details of the changes that this will entail are unclear at present.

And finally, it’s worth pointing out the anomaly with the language. Although it says ‘scientific’ publications, it means all research publications across the full range of subject areas.


What next?

It’s very early days. Plan-S was only announced last month and funders have considerably work to do before it becomes embedded in their OA policies, which universities have to follow.  Whilst funders recognise the problems with the current publishing industry, they also recognise the benefits it brings.  So while Plan-S has been released as a statement of principals on which funders will base their future OA policies, we have yet to see how publishers will respond and whether Plan-S itself will be adjusted.  UKRI are conducting a review of their OA policies over the next year and will provide further information in due course.

Plan-S will not affect the current REF in any way. The University is monitoring the developments with Plan-S over the next few years and will keep you updated as things develop.


If you want to know more, please contact openaccess@port.ac.uk. You may also like to visit the Library Research Support website or follow us on Twitter.


Image credit: Keep calm poster – from Wikipedia – released into the Public Domain.