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Universities voice concern as Dutch take gold route

Academics and lobby groups have criticised a plan to push gold open access in the Netherlands, saying it will protect the profits of the publishing industry at the expense of researchers.

The plan, outlined by Sander Dekker, Dutch secretary of state for science, is aimed at speeding up open-access publication in journals, known as the gold route, in the next decade. The government would, however, provide no extra funds for the strategy—leaving universities worried that they would have to pick up the bill. 

“Thus far, nobody has invented a scenario to speed up the gold route without additional money,” says Bas Savenije, director of the National Library of the Netherlands. “If you do not make additional money available you have to put pressure on all parties involved: not only on universities but also on the publishers.”

The proposal, published in a letter on 15 November, says that at least 60 per cent of Dutch publications should be freely available in the next five years, with a universal system for gold open access in place by 2024. As part of the plan, to be discussed by parliament this week, universities and research organisations must report annually on their progress and are threatened with legislation in 2016 if they fail to take sufficient action by then.

“It is always a good move when a government finally realises that publicly funded research should be accessible for all,” says Lars Bjørnshauge from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. However, he fears that the Dutch approach would merely hand an extra revenue stream to publishers, as authors pay for the gold route, rather than encouraging publishers to change their subscription journals to open access.

In the proposal, the minister suggests that libraries could place pressure on publishers to provide more open-access content as part of big subscription deals. “This needs more commitment from university governance,” says Savenije. “We might end up with less content available—and then the library is the big bad wolf.”

Open-access advocate Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton in the UK says: “The Netherlands is making a huge miscalculation in imagining that the purpose of taxpayers’ investment in funding research is to support the publishing industry.” Instead of following in the footsteps of the UK in prioritising gold, Harnad says the Netherlands should take their lead from countries such as Belgium by making publication in a repository—the green route—mandatory. “Once green is mandated globally, a fair form of gold open access will come,” says Harnad. “Right now gold is double-paid, overpriced and unnecessary.”