CONTACT US Wed Nov. 13, 2013

CASS 中国社会科学网(中文) Français

.  >  WORLD

Developing countries facing economic barrier to open access

Author  :  WANG YOURAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-10-15

Since the release of the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2003 Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, and the 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, open access (OA) as a model of scientific communication has been increasingly accepted and recognized. Calls for the adoption of open access by the international scientific community continue to rise. However, open access is not perfect. Scholars warn that high article processing charges (APCs) are hindering developing countries from taking full advantage of open access and may marginalize researchers from those countries.

The issue of APCs

There are different types of open access depending on how they work and whether they are free of charge, such as Gold OA, Green OA, Hybrid OA, and Diamond/Platinum OA. All OA publications are free to readers, but under the gold and hybrid models, which are the most common, publishers collect APCs from authors to cover the cost of editing (including peer review), proofreading, typesetting, technical support, marketing and client services, and others. This fee can be paid by the author, the author’s institution, or their research funder.

According to a 2018 research paper done by Heather Morrison, an associate professor of information studies at the University of Ottawa, the global average APC for OA publications was 974 USD in 2017. The most common charge by a journal is 0 to 1,000 USD, followed by a range of 1,000 to 2,000 USD.

Francesco Chiodelli, an associate professor at the University of Turin in Italy, said the affordability of APCs in developed countries depends on the position and institution of the author. APCs are usually paid by the researchers through their personal research funds, which are provided to them on an annual basis by their institution. The amount of these funds varies considerably, and senior-level researchers often receive more funds. For instance, Chiodelli receives around 2,000 euros per year, an amount in line with what is allocated to his counterparts at several other Italian universities. Without additional sources of funding, this sum is to be used to cover all his research expenses and the proportion reserved for the payment of APCs is clearly limited.

“If costly APCs are not affordable for many scholars in developed countries, it’s imaginable that scholars in developing countries are facing greater difficulty,” Chiodelli noted.

APCs barely affordable

Spending hundreds of dollars to publish an article is too heavy a burden for many researchers in developing countries and it is obviously unsustainable. Alicia Juliana Kowaltowski, a professor at the University of S?o Paulo, explained that APCs of around 4,000 USD are considered within the normal range, while two-year research grants offered by the Brazilian Federal Government are capped at between 5,640 USD and 22,560 USD, depending on research experience. The most generous research funding agency in Brazil is the S?o Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) funded by the State of S?o Paulo. But even FAPESP caps its regular research grants at just under 30,000 USD per year. This sum is used to cover all equipment, consumables, and services necessary for doing research and an APC is only one item of expenditure.

Brazil is not a special case. According to Erwin Krauskopf, vice chancellor for research at the University of the Americas (Chile), APCs are not well suited to scale in Chile, as most universities do not have an OA budget.

APCs are stalling the progress of African researchers, said Juliet Nabyonga-Orem, a WHO medical officer based in Africa. WHO statistics show that African countries received only 0.65% of global research grants in 2018. Compared to African researchers’ salaries, APCs are an enormous figure. Top earning academics in Africa (i.e. those in South Africa) earn 45%–60% of what their counterparts earn in high-income countries like the US. In some African countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Zambia, the average monthly income of top medical specialists who double as researchers varies between 2,000 USD and 3,000 USD. They may have to spend months of earnings to publish just one paper.

Academic inclusiveness hurt

“Over-priced APCs are an issue of publication ethics and taking a laissez-faire approach toward it is detrimental to the whole academic system,” Chiodelli warned. First, APCs create a barrier to access for researchers with limited funding, such as young/early career scholars, and academics from not-so-affluent institutions or non-developed economies. This will increase the hierarchical segmentation of the academic world. Secondly, APCs are a significant source of revenue for publishers who might be driven to lower quality standards and publish as many papers as possible in order to make more profit. This is suggested by the fact that the publication cycle of APC articles is very short. Relaxing quality control threatens the legitimacy and credibility of science.

Kowaltowski is joined by many scholars in developing countries who feel very worried about the current state of open access. She believes the scientific community has overlooked a critical issue in the push for open access: fair pricing, and the excessive profitability of the academic publishing industry. This will harm academic inclusiveness. “The open access movement, without first implementing more comprehensive reform in academic publishing, will make science marginally more accessible but much less inclusive.”

To avoid open access becoming economically prohibitive, measures must be taken to promote true inclusiveness. The scientific community must ensure fair practice in academic publishing. Consortia of national funding agencies could collect and analyze publishers’ budgets, and compare them with estimated publishing costs to decide on a maximum fair price that they are prepared to pay, Kowaltowski suggested.

Editor: Yu Hui

>> View All

Fei Xiaotong provides insights into Chinese society

Fei Xiaotong (1910–2005) was one of the foremost Chinese sociologists and anthropologists, noted for his studies of ...

>> View All