Statement from the University of California Libraries

A year is a long time in the world of scientific research. The omicron variant of COVID-19 was identified in November 2021. The James Webb Space Telescope launched in December 2021 and sent back its first images just last month. Access to the latest science is the best way to solve today’s problems and accelerate future discoveries — and that is why the White House guidance issued this week to make federally funded research freely and immediately available is so important. 

A 2013 Obama-era policy established a requirement that most federally funded, peer-reviewed research be made available to the American public at no cost within 12 months of publication. This latest action by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) acknowledges that a year is too long to wait: Providing the public and other researchers with the latest scientific knowledge without delay will benefit all of humankind.

The University of California has been advocating for open access since 2013 — and, since signing our first transformative open access publisher agreement in 2019, we have invested in an innovative approach to making UC research freely available. Two key components of the OSTP policy will support and advance these efforts: 

  • The new policy pertains to all federal agencies and all federally funded research, impacting a significant amount of research in the scholarly publishing world. This could place pressure on publishers to abandon the paywall model and transition to business models centered on full open access publishing — putting scientific information into the hands of the public who often fund it with taxpayer dollars.
  • The policy also reinforces that “federal agencies should allow researchers to include reasonable publication costs” in their research grant budgets. This is a win for researchers and academic institutions alike, allowing for greater participation in open access publishing. 

UC’s shared funding model for making our research freely and openly available acknowledges that the shift to open may place a greater financial burden on research-intensive universities.  

“For the half of UC’s research output currently covered by transformative open access agreements, the university fully funds open publications for all researchers without grants,” explains Günter Waibel, associate vice provost and executive director of the California Digital Library, which works to advance open access publishing for UC authors. “For those who do have grants, we ask them to contribute. For an institution producing nearly 10% of all U.S. research output, these funder contributions are a critical piece of making open access a reality.

“This new guidance makes it clear that this strategy continues to be supported by federal funders. It is wind in our sails, and the sails of all research-intensive universities looking for a swift transition to open access.” 

The final frontier is for publishers to fully shift their business models so that their journals, and every article in them, are immediately free for anyone to read. This transition has been underway gradually for many years now — and research institutions, including the University of California, are challenging publishers to accelerate that change so that our research can be free to all. Having the White House throw its weight behind this effort will serve as a catalyst for this transition — a boon to researchers and the world at large at a time when sharing breakthroughs more quickly can fuel scientific discovery at a pace previously unimagined.