Ireland is on the path to Open Access


THIS IS international Open Access Week, promoting the free availability on the internet of the outputs of research, including publications and data. It may seem surprising that in a world where so much information is easily obtained online, the results of scientific research funded by the taxpayer can be difficult to access.

Taking account of the need to also protect potentially valuable intellectual property, the outputs from publicly funded research should be openly available to researchers and users in education, business, charitable and public sectors, and indeed to the general public.

Publishing a scientific article has an associated cost. Submitted articles must be checked by the editors and are evaluated through peer review. All of this costs time and money. This is necessary to ensure the veracity, quality and integrity of published results. Advancements in science depend on communication of results that can be accessed and relied upon by the global research community.

The scientific journals are mainly subscription-based and produced by a wide range of publishers ranging from commercial to learned societies. Many publishers provide discount deals where institutions can subscribe to most of their publications. However, few institutions can afford to pay for all the 25,000 peer-reviewed journals in circulation. Individuals who do not belong to a university or research organisation have very limited access to publications. For example, to download a single article from a leading journal can cost in the region of €30. Without access through a university library, a literature review would be a costly venture.

There are a growing number of open-access journals that turn the subscription-based model on its head. Most of them charge a fee to authors, known as an article processing or publishing charge, before an article is published. Access for readers is then free of charge and with very few restrictions on use and re-use. The latest is eLife, an open-access journal for outstanding advances in life science and biomedicine. This is backed by three powerful organisations, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

Publishing scientific journals can be a highly lucrative business. The second-largest publisher, Springer, made a profit of €250 million last year and is currently for sale with a price tag of €2.5 billion. The American Chemical Society pays its chief executive more than $800,000. In contrast, learned societies use the income from their journals to promote the discipline and would not survive if there were a move to full free and open access.

The European Commission is backing open access. A pilot project is currently under way to encourage EU-funded researchers to place their results in an open-access repository. Open access is already integrated into the planned €80 billion investment in Horizon 2020 and is one of the five areas highlighted in the commission’s policy to achieve a European Research Area (Era) for the free movement of researchers and knowledge.

In Ireland there is open access to publications from the seven universities and DIT through the Rian portal ( This site harvests the content of each of the institutions’ publications repositories to a single portal.

It is an international resource for researchers in academia and enterprise. In addition, Waterford Institute of Technology, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Teagasc and the Marine Institute have open repositories for their publications.

Earlier this week, Minister of State with responsibility for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock launched The National Open Access Statement. The aim of this policy is to increase the visibility and improve access to the outputs of publicly funded research. The next steps for this committee will be the planning of a sustainable national infrastructure for open access.

Irish national policy is designed to support the global free flow of information; to support the principle of research-enabled teaching and learning; to contribute to open innovation through more effective knowledge transfer and diffusion; and to support greater transparency, accountability and public awareness of the results of publicly funded research.

Conor O’Carroll is research director at the Irish Universities Association;

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