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ERC Scientific Council withdraws support for Plan S

Image: Alan Levine [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Reversal is intended to ‘preserve equity among research communities’ and protect young researchers

The European Research Council’s governing Scientific Council—an independent body of researchers that sets the strategic direction for the flagship EU research funder—has announced it is withdrawing its support for the radical open-access initiative Plan S, which the ERC is due to align with from 2021.

“In doing so, the ERC Scientific Council wishes to pay closer attention to a number of aspects [of Plan S] whose importance has been rather underestimated,” the Council said on 20 July.

It cited concerns over how Plan S will affect researchers’ needs, “especially those of young researchers”, as well as the “need to preserve equity among research communities and among European countries, with particular emphasis on countries with more limited national financial support for research”.

Plan S is an initiative from a group of research funders called Coalition S, who will require researchers they support to make resulting papers openly available immediately from 2021 in outlets that meet certain criteria. It began in Europe and remains largely European, with the European Commission and ERC having signed up as formal supporters.

The announcement on 20 July followed the publication of a story by Research Professional News reporting that the ERC Scientific Council raised concerns about open-science proposals for Horizon Europe with the Commission at a meeting in February.

In its announcement, the Council said: “During the past six months, the ERC Scientific Council has intensified its internal debate and reached a unanimous decision to follow a path towards open access implementation that is independent of Coalition S activities. Therefore it has decided to withdraw as a supporter of Coalition S.”

Research Professional News asked the Commission to clarify what impact the Scientific Council’s announcement will have on the ERC’s implementation of Plan S requirements.

The Council’s statement detailed concerns around Plan S requirements for hybrid journals—which combine open-access and subscription publication options—to commit to becoming fully open-access in order to be eligible for Coalition S funding of the open-access publication option.

“Coalition S has declared that the publication of research results in hybrid venues outside of transformative arrangements will be ‘non-compliant’ as of 1 January 2021, leading to the non-eligibility of related publication costs,” the Council said. It said it “considers that this will be detrimental, especially for early career researchers, researchers working in countries with fewer alternative funding opportunities or working in fields in which open-access policies are more difficult to implement”.

The Council repeated what it had earlier told Research Professional News—that it is “working closely with the Commission” to find solutions to its concerns for Horizon Europe, including the ERC. It said it remains “committed to implementing full and immediate open access and continues to support the principles underlying Plan S”.

Research Europe has asked Coalition S for comment.