The Country-Level Degrowth of Open Access: Comparative Findings Indicate the Presence of Dissimilar Dynamics Across Models

Whereas an OASPA webinar, from late March 2021, has concentrated on Australia’s transition to Open Access, it has also indicated a peak in its Open Access output occurring in 2018. This is similar to the degrowth tendencies setting in across some other countries in two recent years.

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On March 22/23, 2021, the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA) hosted a webinar entitled “On track or off the rails? Australia’s open journey.” Chaired by Danny Kingsley, this online event has featured Lucy Montgomery, Ian Chubb and Martin Borchert, as its speakers. As Kingsley has indicated, given the significant dependence of Australian universities on revenue streams deriving from tuition income generated by their overseas students, rather than on federal funding that could provide dedicated support for Open Access, these institutions put a premium on academic excellence and ranking performance, to the outward demonstration of which publications in prestigious journals and at globally leading publishing houses contribute. Combined with a lack of a coordinated approach to Open Access, Australian universities can be described as underperforming in this regard.

Yet, as figures presented by Montgomery also show, over the period 2010-2018 the share of Open Access, across its different models, in Australia’s scholarly output, as estimated based on the information provided by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Crossref, Unpaywall, Microsoft Academic and other sources, has consistently grown from around 25% to circa 47%, while registering consecutive declines in 2019 and 2020 to approximately 43% and 38% respectively. Similarly, the comparative data shows that, for the United States, the peak of Open Access output share growth took place in 2017 at around 50% with a period of consistent de-growth in subsequent years, e.g.., just below 40% in Open Access publications out of the total of all scholarly output in 2020. 

Similar trajectories could be observed in the United Kingdom with a high point of Open Access output growth of almost 70% in 2017 with a degrowth slope afterwards, such as to about 53% in 2020, and New Zealand demonstrating a growing share of Open Access content that peaks in 2017 (around 43%) and falls to approximately 35% in 2020. Countries as different as the Netherlands, Indonesia and Brazil have largely followed the trajectory of Australia, as their output in Open Access, despite minor fluctuations, has attained a highest level in 2018, only to enter a minor de-growth phase from approximately 67%, 83% and 67% in 2018 to 63%, 76% and 56% in 2020 respectively.

Notably, over the last decade both for these countries and internationally, such as for Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, Oceania and Australia, this transition from the growth to degrowth phase can be surmised to chiefly derive from a significant contraction in the Green Open Access output and a comparatively slower pace of growth in the Gold Open Access output in this period. Likewise, though the years 2017-2018 seem to be those when Green Open Access has attained its greatest extent as part of global scholarly output, on the background of the continued growth in Gold Open Access over the last decade globally, this joint dynamic has apparently only partly diminished the relative importance of Green Open Access, as the growth in Gold Open Access output slows down, such as in Australia in recent years.

Aggregate figures for these models indicate the presence, likely for the sampled countries and globally, of a dynamic of the coordinated peak in the share of the total Open Access output and that of the articles published in Green Open Access in 2018, a contraction in which has also apparently reduced the overall Open Access output levels. Montgomery, likewise, suggests that funder policies ought to have made a significant contribution to this dynamic. However, Montgomery’s data shows that, for Latin America, investment into Open Access infrastructure does not necessarily have a predictable region-wide impact, as in Brazil upward fluctuations in Gold Open Access output in the period 2010-2017 were succeeded by contractions in the shares of both Gold and Green Open Access output between 2018 and 2020.   

By Pablo Markin

 


Featured Image Credits: State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, May 24, 2010 | © Courtesy of Helen K/Flickr.

Pablo Markin

Community Manager, Open Research Community