Go back

Robert-Jan Smits: the future for Plan S

On his last day as open-access envoy for the European Commission, Robert-Jan Smits told Research Europe he has laid the groundwork for the continued growth of Plan S, the controversial publishing initiative that he masterminded.

The first priority for the Commission and Coalition S—the group of research funders that have signed up to Plan S—is to get in place people and agreements to build on the momentum he has created over the past year, Smits said on 28 February.

The next envoy will have to convince more funders to sign up to Plan S, following fierce resistance from some researchers and publishers. Two people have been shortlisted for the role, he said.

Under Plan S, funders will require the researchers they support to make their papers openly available immediately and with permissive copyright licences from 2020. Fourteen national funders and four philanthropic foundations have signed up so far, all but two of them in Europe, while funders in India and Jordan are believed to be close to signing up.

In addition to a new envoy, Smits has suggested that Coalition S should appoint “regional ambassadors” to “spread the Plan S gospel”. Smits said he received many invitations to talk about Plan S from around the world, but struggled to accept them because he was the only person working on it full time.

A second priority is to update the Plan S implementation guidance, based on the roughly 600 responses to a consultation that closed last month. “I think that towards April there will be an updated guidance document, but there needs to be, before that, a number of strategic decisions taken with regard to repositories, learned societies, the licence—how we are going to be more flexible in order to have easier Plan S compliance,” Smits said.

A third priority will be to keep making the case for Plan S, “notably to young scientists”, and to help organisations invest in the technologies that they will need to comply.

Smits said he had not been surprised by the pushback Plan S has received from some researchers. He quoted two pieces of advice he received as envoy. First: universities and researchers are “coin-driven”, and mainly motivated by winning funding. Second: “The biggest inhibitor to change and modernisation in the academic system is the academic system itself.”

But he said he thinks some of the arguments against Plan S have been “unfair”. He reserved his greatest ire for accusations that Plan S will prevent Coalition S-funded researchers from collaborating with people who do not face restrictions on where and how they can publish.

“I thought that scientists work together across borders to extend the frontiers of knowledge and solve problems for society,” he said. “If now scientists tell me that they will not cooperate anymore if they are not allowed to publish behind a paywall, I think we have a serious problem with the role of science in our society and we probably have got to have a more fundamental debate.”

Smits spoke to Research Europe on the eve of starting his new role as president of the executive board of the Technical University of Eindhoven. He said he would not get involved in negotiating with publishers on behalf of Eindhoven or other universities, as he wants to focus on his role, which includes building Eindhoven’s international profile.

Research Europe will publish a full exit interview with Smits in the near future.