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Australian health council mandates immediate open access


NHMRC guidelines updated to “ensure the highest impact of the research we fund”

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council has mandated immediate open-access publishing for research arising from its grants.

In a change announced on 20 September and applicable immediately, the NHMRC told researchers that new grant applications would fall under the immediate-access rule.

All other peer-reviewed publications, from grants previously awarded or from rounds with previously published guidelines, must be made available open access within 12 months, in line with the council’s previous policy. By 1 January 2024, all NHMRC grants will be covered by the new rules.

The change also mandates the use of a Creative Commons Attribution licence to allow public use of the work.

The council has also joined the international Coalition S, which is behind the Plan S open-access push and is backed by many European funders and organisations. Plan S seeks to tie research funding to the results of that funding being made available open access immediately upon publication.

Ensuring impact

NHMRC chief executive Anne Kelso said in a statement that the council supported open access “because it helps to ensure the highest impact of the research we fund”.

The council said its new policy was in line with the growing international shift towards open-access publishing, including the recent announcement by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy that all US funding agencies are required to adopt open-access publishing policies without embargoes by 31 December 2025.

In a statement, the council said the move was “based on extensive consultation with the Australian research sector, advice from the NHMRC’s expert committees and international best practice”.

The council proposed immediate open access in 2021 but delayed the decision following feedback from universities and medical research institutes about costs and issues in dealing with publishers.

The NHMRC policy allows for more restrictive publication when necessary to respect “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander intellectual and cultural rights”.

No particular publication method has been laid out by the council. “The NHMRC has no preferred route for open access and respects a diversity of approaches,” the policy says.

Authors can either make their original journal publication open access or simultaneously publish their work in an online depository run by their institution or another body.

In 2021, the NHMRC awarded grants totalling just over A$986 million.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe