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fact sheet
16 October 2020

Open access of research publications

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The Dutch government wants all scientific publications by Dutch authors to be 'open access' (free to the reader) by the end of 2020. This fact sheet shows how open access is developing in the Netherlands and internationally. The proportion of publications that are open access is growing rapidly. 61% of scientific publications from 2019 in which a Dutch author was involved were made open access. This puts the Netherlands in the lead internationally.

In short

  • The share of open-access publications grew from 35% in 2010 to 61% in 2019.
  • This is higher than for other European countries.
  • An increasing proportion of these open-access publications are available via the “gold” and “green” routes.

Traditional publication model: reader pays, copyright rests with the publisher

In the current publication model, the journals in which researchers publish their articles are managed by publishers. Each journal subjects submitted articles to internal screening and to a peer-review process in which fellow researchers assess their quality. When an article is published, the copyright often becomes the property of the publisher. Anyone who wants to read the article has to pay to do so or have a subscription.

Open access: reading free of charge

The publication model is under discussion: it involves high costs for readers. Many believe that research funded by public means should be publicly available. Therefore, organisations and governments are working internationally to reverse to open access.

Open access means that research publications are available to the reader free of charge, for example to read, download, distribute, or edit – as long as the original author is credited (BOAI, 2002).

There are various types of open access. They differ as to the version of the article that is made available, the location where it is available, and/or the conditions under which it is available. These different types are indicated by a colour: gold, green, or bronze.

In this factsheet we distinguish the following three open access “routes”:

Form Version Place of publication User rights
Gold route The publisher's version Open access journal or platform. or freely accessible in a subscription-based journal (also known as 'hybrid' journals) Read and use
Green route Peer-reviewed version A repository managed by an academic institution Dependent on license
Bronze route The publisher's version On the publisher's website or platform Dependent on license

Aim: 100% open access by 2020, copyright with the author

The Netherlands has the aim of publishing 100% of research publications that come forth from publicly funded research as open access (Dekker, 2013; Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2017). The Dutch government strives after open access through the gold route (Dekker, 2013). The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) negotiates with several publishers to reach that goal.

In September 2018, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the European Research Council (ERC), and ten other European research funding bodies signed “Plan S” (Science Europe, 2018). Up to today, twelve other funding bodies and international organisations have also joined Plan S.

Plan S states that research resulting from all calls by these organisations published as of january 1, 2021 (including Horizon Europe),  must be published as open access (Science Europe, 2019: NWO, 2019). The open-access status must be immediate, upon the moment of publication. Also, the copyright myst remain with the authors of the article. This may not be transferred to the publisher. 

Plan S strives after open access through the gold or green route. Open access publication in a closed journal ('hybrid') is only accepted when there is a transformative agreement with its publisher to flip the journal to open access, or the article is simultaneously placed in a repository. NWO chooses to make open access obligatory for books directed at an academic public as well (NWO, 2020). 

Open access in the Netherlands

The graph below shows which part of research publications with at least one Dutch author from the years 2010-2019 is freely available in the fall of 2020. 

The share of open-access publications rises each year: from 35% of the publications from 2010 to 61% of the publications from 2019. 56% of all publications from 2019 is available through the green or golden route - and will remain available long term. Recent measurements of open access by Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) (54% in 2019) and the VSNU (only universities, 62% in 2019) reveal a similar picture. Here, bronze is not included.

In the coming years, the share of open-access publications for the last few years in the graph will continue to grow for two reasons. First, some articles only become open access after an embargo period installed by the publisher. Second, not all open-access publications are correctly identified as such in the databases (see the section about the data). For earlier years, the share in Web of Science may also fluctuate, because researchers put older publications in repositories, or because the identification of open-access publications improves. For these years, a slight decline might also occur, because many bronze articles may disappear behind a paywall again.  

All this means that in fact, the share of open-access publications available one year after their publishing year has probably risen even steeper than the graph above shows.

Development of open access routes

In the introduction, we showed that articles can become open access through different routes. The first graph shows which routes are being used. Of all open-access publications from 2019, 73% is available through the golden route and 80% through the green route. 5% of open-access publications is only available through the bronze route. 

Some articles are available by more than one route. The category “Green & Gold” indicates articles that are available to the reader free of charge via both a journal (gold) and a database (green). The author or the institution where he/she works has then chosen to also upload the publication to a database. When looking at the development of the different routes, the following stands out:

The Gold route has grown fastest. The proportion of open-access publications published via the gold route (inter alia) rose from 35% of publications in 2010 to 61% in 2019. 46% of these 2019 gold open-access publications are to be found in an open-access journal. Gold open-access publications account for 45% of the total number of Dutch publications in that year. The green route is also becoming more important.

Most open access publications are published via the Green route. 80% of all open-access publications from 2019 are available (inter alia) via a repository, i.e. 49% of the total number of Dutch publications in that year.

The importance of the Bronze route diminishes: As the number of publications available through the golden route rises, the number of publications that is available solely through the bronze route declines. Of all open-access publications from 2002, 46% is available solely through the bronze route, against 8% of open-access publications from 2019. Based on developments in previous years, we expect this number to rise in the coming years, but not to the 46% of 2002. In comparison: of all open-access publications from 2014, 21% is currently solely available through the bronze route. 

More and more articles are available via both the Gold and Green routes. Of the “gold publications” from 2018, 84% are also available as “green”. Conversely, 64% of the “green publications” from 2018 are also available as “gold”. This shows that authors and institutions are increasingly making use of the possibility of also including an article in a database that has been published by a publisher as open access.

The Netherlands is a frontrunner in open access

The following graph shows that open access is increasing in all countries and that the Netherlands is the leader as regards the proportion of publications that are published as open access. With 61% in 2019, the Netherlands is ahead of the EU-27 average (44%). Our neighbouring countries also show lower open access percentages. 

The top 5 for 2019:

  • 61% Netherlands
  • 59% Finland
  • 57% United Kingdom
  • 56% Sweden
  • 54% Austria

That the Netherlands is an international leader in open access is also confirmed by other analyses. The European Open Science Monitor shows the share of open-access publications for all publications from 2009-2018. This is 50% for the Netherlands: slightly lower than the UK and Switzerland (52%). The 2017 analysis by Van Leeuwen et al. (CWTS) also shows that the Netherlands, with a proportion of 37%, is the leader among the reference countries. It is followed by the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland, and Sweden, each with 34% open access.

The Netherlands also leads in golden open access

As we saw in the introduction, the Dutch government strives to realise open access as much as possible via the golden route. The graph below compares the share of all research publications that are open access through the golden route (including hybrid). 45% of 2019 articles with at least one Dutch author is available through the golden route. For the EU-27, this is 31%. In our neighbouring countries is it 33% (UK), 30% (Germany), 29% (Belgium) and 25% (France). 

Considerations on cost and quality of open access

Making open access possible requires a change in the publication process. This raises questions about new publishing methods, the funding of open-access publications, maintaining the quality of publications, and the important role that publications play in ensuring the quality of research (see for example: Finch, 2012; Pinfield, 2015; AWTI, 2016). Publishers apply a variety of business models for open-access publication of articles. Government and the bodies that fund research also impose requirements for the publication conditions, which may conflict with one another.

It is not easy to determine how the costs for open access publishing compare with those for the existing publication model. Among other things, this depends on how the open-access system is designed and whether publishers will maintain their strong position in the market. It is conceivable that a system in which all research publications are open access will ultimately be cheaper for knowledge-users than the conventional system of paying for access to subscription journals (Houghton et al., 2009; Witmond et al., 2014). But it is equally possible that the costs for a fully open-access system will in fact be higher than for the conventional system (AWTI, 2016; CPB, 2016). The question is who will bear the costs of the transition and of open-access publishing.

Finally, quality is an issue because the status of the journals in which researchers publish their findings and the peer-review system involved in publication are essential components of research quality assurance and the assessment of researchers. Open access publishing might have an effect on citation-impact. Research from Van Leeuwen and Schneider (2019) has shown that the impact-score and journal-impact of golden open access articles (excl. hybrid) is slightly below that of articles from closed journals. The citation and journal impact of articles published via the hybrid or bronze routes is higher than that of articles in traditional journals. Articles available via the green route, for a large part also available through one of the other routes, are in between.

About the data