When Plan-S was announced last September, it proposed significant changes to the way in which academic research is published. It has recently been revised over the last few months. Although it doesn’t affect the current REF, Plan-S will potentially affect all UK academics in the future. So I’ve written this blog post to look at where we are now.

Plan-S aims to accelerate Open Access (OA), which is important to the future of research –

“Universality is a fundamental principle of science (the term “science” as used here includes the humanities): only results that can be discussed, challenged, and, where appropriate, tested and reproduced by others qualify as scientific. Science, as an institution of organised criticism, can therefore only function properly if research results are made openly available to the community so that they can be submitted to the test and scrutiny of other researchers. Furthermore, new research builds on established results from previous research. The chain, whereby new scientific discoveries are built on previously established results, can only work optimally if all research results are made openly available to the scientific community.” (cOAlition S).

What is Plan-S?


So what is Plan-S?  The ultimate outcome of Plan-S is that much more research will be openly accessible for everyone in the world, which is quite exciting! It has numerous features, but here’s a summary –

“With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.”

This goal is underpinned by 10 principles. Plan-S is now formally supported by a group of major funders from both the UK and the rest of the world, jointly known as cOAlitionS. The version of Plan-S outlined below will only apply to journal and conference articles, but there may be a version for monographs and books in the longer term future.


How does this affect the UK?

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome are part of cOAlition S.  So the forthcoming updates that these two funders will make to their OA polices will be guided by Plan-S.  This means that the majority of UK academics will be affected.

In terms of the timescale, UKRI are reviewing their OA polices this coming autumn. This includes both their OA policy for the 2028 Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the OA policy for research funded by the research councils (i.e. the RCUK policy). They plan to release their new policies in spring 2020. At this point, we will have a clearer idea what of we have to do.

However, UKRI (Research England) have clearly stated that the current REF will not be affected by Plan-S.


How could this affect me in the future?

This is largely dependant on how the UK funders (UKRI including the REF, and the Wellcome Trust) interpret Plan-S when updating their OA policies next spring.  Providing they deliver on their public commitment to Plan-S and update their polices to closely align with it, academics will need to take one of these three routes to OA when publishing research articles –

Publish in a fully OA journal (e.g. PLoS) or on an OA platform.


Publish subscription journal which is covered by a ‘transformative agreement’. This means the journal has publicly committed to becoming fully OA in the future. (In 2024, permission to use this route will be reviewed).


Publish in a subscription journal which doesn’t have a ‘transformative’ agreement and upload a copy of the article to a repository, e.g. Pure. (However, funders will not pay for gold OA when using this route).

All three routes require articles to be openly available immediately on publication (i.e. no embargo). Also, all three routes require articles to have a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), unless an exception has been agreed by the funder. Additionally, Plan-S strongly encourages researchers to deposit articles (author’s accepted manuscript/post-print or version of record) in a repository, irrespective of the chosen route to compliance.

When choosing where to publish, Plan-S advocates the responsible use of metrics and strongly argue against using traditional indicators, such as journal impact factor. Similarly, funders who sign-up to Plan-S must agree to ignore the prestige of journals when making funding decisions.

The consequence of not complying with one of these three routes will be determined by URKI and Wellcome. It’s likely to result in funding being withheld and research not being eligible for the 2028 REF.

It may also be mandatory to share research data, wherever legally and ethically possible. This is already the policy of Wellcome and the UKRI funding councils, but it represents a big change for the 2028 REF.

However, it is important to be aware that we don’t know yet know for sure how the UK funders will interpret Plan-S and there may be further changes.


The consultation

Back in the autumn, cOAlition-S carried out a consultation. They received over 600 inputs from universities (including us), publishers and other interested parties from over 40 different counties. The outcome of the consultation was released last month. The core principles of Plan-S haven’t changed, however some refinements were made.

These are the most notable changes that happened as a result of the consultation. I’ve already incorporated these changes into my description above.

  • In order to provide more time for researchers and publishers to adapt to the changes under Plan S, the timeline has been extended by one year to 2021;
  • Transformative agreements will be supported until 2024;
  • More options for transitional arrangements (transformative agreements, transformative model agreements, ‘transformative journals’) are supported;
  • Greater clarity is provided about the various compliance routes: Plan S is NOT just about a publication fee model of OA publishing. cOAlition S supports a diversity of sustainability models for OA journals and platforms;
  • More emphasis is put on changing the research reward and incentive system: cOAlition S funders explicitly commit to adapt the criteria by which they value researchers and scholarly output;
  • The importance of transparency in OA publication fees is emphasised in order to inform the market and funders’ potential standardisation and capping of payments of such fees;
  • The technical requirements for Open Access repositories have been revised (e.g. removal of the JATS/XML requirement).

Plan-S have also recently appointed a new leader, Dr Neil Jacobs, who has taken over the role of leading the initiative.


Other considerations

There are number of factors that may also have an impact on Plan-S. Not least the potential resistance from the publishing industry. Compliance with Plan-S requires publishers to change their current policies, but they are obviously concerned with the impact these changes may have on their business. (Take a look at the Paywall: The Business of Scholarship video or the article on the cost of subscriptions rising above inflation for an insight into the significant profit publishers make). So at the moment we are watching what publishers do and how they respond.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that while a significant proportion of the major European funders have signed up to Plan-S, the US and China have expressed an interest but are not currently signed-up.  It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming months.


Do I need to do anything now?

You don’t need to do anything at the moment. We will find out next spring how Plan-S will affect the future 2028 REF and research funded by the UKRI research councils.

So please just carry on as usual – i.e. uploading your articles and associated research data to Pure as soon as they are accepted for publication to ensure they’re eligible for this REF.


Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions – emily.davey@port.ac.uk (Dr Emily Davey, Research Outputs Manager, University Library).