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Open access of research publications

fact sheet
27 October 2021
access peerreview journal
In this factsheet we show how open access is developing in the Netherlands and internationally. The Dutch government had the ambition of having all scientific publications by Dutch authors to be 'open access' (free to the reader) by the end of 2020. We show that 71% of scientific publications with a Dutch author from 2020 are currently available via open access. That means the ambition has not been realized. However, the ambition seems to have had its effects. The Netherlands has been an international frontrunner in the realization of open access for years.

In short

  • The share of open-access publications grew from 36% in 2010 to 71% in 2020.
  • That makes the Netherlands an international frontrunner.
  • The hybrid route, publishing an article via open access in a 'closed' subscription journal, has played an important role.

Open access: from the reader pays to reading free of charge

Many journals in which scientists publish 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. For a long time it was standard that, upon publication, the copyright of an article transferred to the publisher. Subsequently, anyone who wants to read the article has to pay to do so or have a subscription.

The publication model has for a long time now been up for discussion. Authors loose copyright over their work and 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 Could the article. in the future. disappear behind a paywall?
Gold route The publisher's version Open access journal or platform (DOAJ-gold). or freely accessible in a subscription-based journal (also known as 'hybrid' journals; hybrid gold) Read and use No
Green route Peer-reviewed version A repository managed by an academic institution Dependent on license No
Bronze route The publisher's version On the publisher's website or platform Dependent on license Yes

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 rises

The graph below shows which part of research publications with at least one Dutch author from the years 2010-2020 is freely available in the fall of 2021. Since 2015, the share of publications that is freely available grows by about five percentage points per year. 

The share of open-access publications rises each year: from 36% of the publications from 2010 to 71% of the publications from 2020. Recent measurements of open access by Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) (62% in 2020) and the VSNU (only universities, 73% in 2020) reveal a similar picture. Here, bronze is not included.

68% of 2020 scientific publications is available through the green or gold routes. This means that they will remain available in the future. Bronze publications can at one point disappear behind a paywall once more. 

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.

Hybrid route is important in the Netherlands

Of all scientific publications with a Dutch author, 56% is available through the golden route, in a journal or publisher platform. This fashion of open access publishing has grown the most in the past years. Since 20110, the share of publications with a Dutch author available through this route has risen by 43 percentage points.

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. 

58% of all open-access publications from 2020 are available (inter alia) via a repository. 78% of these articles in a green database is also available through the gold route. This shows that many authors and/or their institutions use the possibility to upload an article published via open access by a publisher in an online database. 

The importance of the gold route for the Netherlands, and the negotiations to enable open access publishing in 'closed' subscription journals (hybrid gold), is visible when we compare the relevance of the different routes of open access for the Netherlands with that of other OECD countries. This is done in the figure below.

The figure shows that of all Dutch open access publications 43% is available through the hybrid gold route. Comparable shares of this route can be found in Sweden (43%), Norway and Austria (both 39%). Next to that, it stands out that the green route plays a relatively large role in Belgium and the anglophone countries (United Kingdom, United States and Ireland). 

When we compare the three geopolitical entities of the US, China and the European Union, we see that the gold route is very important in China, while in the US the green route plays a larger role. This is in agreement with the policies in these countries, as we have described in our foresight study on open science for the European Commission.

The Netherlands is a frontrunner in open access

With 71% in 2020, the Netherlands is an international front runner in publishing via open access. the Dutch percentage is well ahead of the EU-27 average (52%). Our neighbouring countries also show lower open access percentages. 

The top 5 for 2020:

  • Netherlands (71%)
  • Norway (68%)
  • Sweden (67%)
  • Finland (66%)
  • United Kingdom (63%)

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 (2009-2014). It is followed by the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland, and Sweden, each with 34% open access.

When we look solely at the golden route, we see that the Netherlands is ahead internationally, together with the Scandinavian countries (see the second tab above: in the graph gold is divided by publications in a fully open access journal (DOAJ-gold) and in a subscription journal (hybrid gold)). 55% of scientific publications with at least one Dutch author from 2020 is available via the golden route. For the EU-27, this is 41%. In our neighbouring countries this is 45% (Germany), 41% (UK), 37% (Belgium) and 31% (France). 

In consideration: cost and quality of publishing via open access

Facilitating open access requires a change in the publication process. This raises questions about new publishing methods, the funding of open-access publications, how to maintain their quality and the important role that publications play in ensuring the quality of research (see, for example, Finch, 2012; Pinfield, 2015; AWTI, 2016). Publishers apply different business models for open-access publishing. Governments and research funding bodies also impose what may be mutually incompatible requirements on the publication terms and conditions. These two can be in conflict with each other, making the publication process more time consuming for scientists.

It is difficult to compare the costs of open-access publishing with those of the existing publication model. These costs depend, among other things, on the form that the open-access system will take and whether publishers will maintain their dominant position in the market. It is conceivable that a system in which all research publications are open access will ultimately be cheaper for users than the conventional system of paying for access to subscription-based journals (Houghton et al., 2009; Witmond et al., 2014). However, it is equally conceivable that the costs of a fully open-access system will in fact exceed those of the conventional system (AWTI, 2016; CPB, 2016).  It is particularly the period of transition from a traditional to an open access publication model that is vulnerable. Institutions and scientific authors must pay the costs of both open access publication charges on top of the subscriptions for traditional, closed journals. To publish open access, scientific authors must often pay so-called author processing charges. This way publishing costs are transferred from the reader to the author. At the same time more and more models are developed to publish in a journal without costs to the author (Bosman et al., 2021). This is called ‘diamond’ open access. The question is: who will bear the costs of the transition and of open-access publishing.

Quality is also an issue, because the status of the journals in which researchers publish and the peer-review system associated with publication are essential to ensuring the quality of scientific and scholarly research and to researcher assessment. A switch to open access publishing may have an effect on the citation-impact of articles, for example because high impact journals are no longer an option for authors – or because publications in open access are more accessible. Research from Van Leeuwen and Schneider (2019) shows that the impact score and the journal impact of golden open access articles (excluding hybrid gold) for the Netherlands are slightly lower than those of articles behind a paywall. Fur hybrid gold articles, and bronze articles, the citation- and journal impact are slightly higher. Articles available via a repository (green route), which are often also available through the gold route, are in between in terms of impact.


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