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Open access of research publications

fact sheet
27 October 2022
access peerreview journal
In this factsheet we show how open access is developing in the Netherlands and internationally. 'open access' means that research publications are freely accessible for the reader. With this, scientists and policymakers worldwide aim to increase the accessibility of these publications and the speed at which scientific insights circulate. The Netherlands has been an international frontrunner in the realization of open access for years. The deals that Dutch universities and research institutes make with publishers to, against payment, allow publishing via open access in 'closed' subscription journals (the 'hybrid route') play an important role in the Netherlands.

In short

  • 78% of scientific publications with a Dutch author published in 2021 are available via open access
  • 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. 40% of Dutch scientific publications via open access use this route (2021), versus 25% of those of the European Union.

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

Many journals in which researchers 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 past twenty years more and more researchers, research institutes and governments have worked to replace this publication model with a model based on publication via 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). This means that research that is funded by public means becomes publicly available, and that scientists can more easily share their results with each other and with society.

In these publication models the quality that the publication process assures is maintained, but it is no longer the reader who pays for it. The costs can, for example, be carried by  the institutes where scientists work, who negotiate deals with publishers. In the Netherlands, Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) negotiates transformative read and publish deals with publishers such  as Springer and Elsevier. These deals mean that their researchers get access to the content published in closed 'subscription journals' and are able to publish their own articles in open access in these normally closed journals. Next to these deals, publication platforms have been developed by the research community itself where neither the reader, nor the author, pays to publish. An example is the Dutch platform Openjournals.

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. There is also discussion on the diamond route (Bosman et al., 2021). This is a variation of the gold route where neither the reader nor the author pays publication fees. the route is not presented separately, as we do not as of yet have the necessary data to do so.

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, 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 via the golden route (Dekker, 2013). The current coalition agreement affirms that open science, of which open access is a part, will become the norm (VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie, 2021).

At the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) publishing articles as open access has been obligatory since 2016. In 2018 NWO, together with the European Research Council (ERC), and ten other European research funding bodies signed “Plan S” (Science Europe, 2018). That means that 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 must remain with the authors of the article. This may not be transferred to the publisher. Up to today, twelve other funding bodies and international organisations have also joined Plan S.

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 was freely available within ten months after its publication year. The share of publications that was freely available within this timeframe grew from 44% in 2016 to 78% in 2021.

The graph above also shows via which route publications became freely available. Publications that are available via both the green and the golden routes are included as golden. Publications that are available through both the green and the bronze routes are included as green. The categories bronze and golden don’t overlap. Of all 2021 publications, 59% is available via the golden route, 17% via the green route and 2% via the bronze route.

That means that 76% of 2021 scientific publications remain available over time. Bronze publications may disappear behind a paywall again in the future.

Andere metingen laten een vergelijkbaar beeld zien. Zo blijkt uit de meting van UNL dat van alle

Other recent measurements of open access show a similar image. The annual measurement done by UNL shows that of all 2021 peer reviewed articles from Dutch universities, 82% is available via open access: 67% via the golden route and 15% via the golden route. Of all 2021 peer reviewed articles, reviews and conference proceedings included in the NARCIS-database of Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), 77% is available via open access. While these measurements differ in terms of definition and data source (see the section ‘about the data’), they provide a similar impression of the development of publishing via open access in the Netherlands.

Peer reviewed articles that are the product of research funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and ZonMw are particularly often available via open access: nine out of ten in 2021 (CWTS, 2022). Other than in the numbers mentioned before, pre-prints are included in this number.

56% of the past ten years’ scientific publications is freely available

At the most recent moment of measurement, October 2022, 56% of all scientific publications in Web of Science with at least one Dutch author from the period 2011-2021 is available via open access. 33% is available via the golden route, 17% via the green route and 6% via the bronze route. 44% of publications from this period is not available via open access.

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). A slight decline might also occur, because many bronze articles may disappear behind a paywall again.  

Hybrid route is important in the Netherlands

As the figures above show, most research publications via open access use the golden route. 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 a relatively large part of all Dutch open access publications is available through the hybrid gold route: 40%. Comparable shares of this route can be found in the Scandinavian countries and Austria. of all research publications via open access with at least one author from the EU27, 25% uses the hybrid gold route. The share of publications via open access that uses a full open access journal ('DOAJ-gold') is relatively small in the Netherlands. 35% of research publications via open access from the Netherlands uses this route, compared to 54% of the research publications of all EU27-countries combined. 

    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

    Partially thanks to this hybrid route, the Netherlands is an international front runner in publishing via open access. 78% of Dutch research publications are available as open access. the Dutch percentage is well ahead of the EU-27 average of 59%. 

    The top 5 for 2021:

    • Netherlands (78%)
    • Finland (75%)
    • Sweden (74%)
    • Norway (73%)
    • Switzerland (70%)

    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%). This percentage is lower than in the figure above, because it concerns all publications from a ten year period. 

    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). 59% of research publications with at least one Dutch author from 2021 is available via the golden route. For the EU-27, this is 47%. In our neighbouring countries this is 48% (Germany), 45% (UK), 40% (Belgium) and 34% (France). 

    In consideration: cost and quality of publishing via open access

    Facilitating open access requires a change in the publication process. This raised 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). Even now, when nearly four out of every five Dutch research publications is published as open access, these questions remain important. 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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