Queen’s and the Tri-Agency's Update to National Open Access Policy
As Canada moves to follow the open access example set by Europe and the USA, questions about financial sustainability and equity must be addressed.
On June 4th, 2023, Canada’s federal research granting agencies announced a review of the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications*, with the goal of requiring immediate open and free access to all academic publications generated through Tri-Agency supported research by the end of 2025. At Queen’s, this will mean significant changes to relevant policies and processes, primarily related to navigating the pay-to-publish model currently dominating the publishing landscape in the form of article processing charges (APCs).
APCs are extra fees that authors pay to academic publishers to make their articles openly available rather than barriered behind paywalls. Academic publishers are increasingly embracing this pay-to-publish business model, making the cost of open access publishing prohibitively expensive for many authors. APC fees vary by publisher and journal and can range from less than $1,000 USD to over $11,000 USD. Estimates indicate that Canadian authors spent at least $27.6 million USD on APCs related to Tri-Agency funded work from 2015 to 2018. This is in addition to the millions of dollars spent annually by academic libraries to provide access to paywalled articles, sometimes in the same journals in which the APC-paid open access articles appear. There are ongoing questions and concerns about not only the financial sustainability of academic publishers’ APC-driven business model, but the potential of this model for creating and reinforcing global inequities to the detriment of authors, libraries, and academic institutions. Ensuring open, accessible, and sustainable scholarly publishing is all the more urgent given Queen’s University’s strongly established commitment to advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including ensuring equal access to university education and strengthening protection and safeguards for the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
While the University does not currently fund individual author APC fees, it does support open access through other means, including publishing agreements with select publishers, support for open infrastructure like Open Journal Systems and QSpace, and membership and participation in provincial, national, and international bodies promoting and supporting sustainable open access.
“Responding to changes in the world of scholarly publishing – especially regarding the current processing fee driven structure – is a prime concern for libraries and is specifically addressed in Queen's University Library's new strategic plan. As a purchaser and licenser of vast amounts of scholarly publishing, with simultaneous responsibilities to help the communities we serve understand and navigate that environment, the library is uniquely well-positioned to help ensure the future of scholarly publishing is as open, equitable, and sustainable as possible,” said Vice Provost and University Librarian Mark Asberg.
Queen’s University Library, in collaboration with Queen's Research, is leading consultations with the Queen’s community to successfully navigate the forthcoming Tri-Agency policy change and wider issues related to open access. Specifically, Queen’s University Library’s strategic plan will see us develop and execute a multi-year action plan in support of sustainable and accessible scholarly publishing. This work will include broad consultation and communication with the Queen’s community, with the goal of finding comprehensive solutions and ways to proliferate those solutions across the higher education ecosystem in Canada and around the world, consistent with Queen’s Global Engagement Strategic Plan 2023-28.
"This action plan will strengthen the future of research at Queen's by ensuring researchers have the tools and supports to comply with the new Tri-Agency Open Access policy upon its release at the end of 2025," said Betsy Donald, Associate Vice-Principal Research. “We’re grateful for the leadership of our government and Tri-Agency partners in initiating the Open Access Policy review, and helping to ensure a research environment at Queen’s where exceptional people create an unrivalled community and an unmatched mix of opportunities for discovery, collaboration, and partnership”
*The current Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications does require that authors make copies of funded journal articles freely available online but allows for a 12-month embargo period where publishers get exclusive rights to the content and can keep it locked behind a paywall which can result in significant delays vital research being freely accessible.