Open Access is the practice of making scholarly research results freely available online to the public, both within and outside academia, with the ultimate goal of maximising the impact of said research. Based on the principle that research financed with public funds should also be publicly available, the FWO requires that research results are published in Open Access (FWO General Regulations, article 2, paragraph 2).
The Open Access publication requirement applies to all FWO researchers, i.e. all holders of an FWO fellowship/project/grant who publish results achieved in whole or in part through funding by the FWO. In addition, the FWO aims to encourage these researchers to also publish their other works in Open Access. Although the FWO recommends researchers to publish all publications in Open Access form, the current regulations apply only to peer reviewed journal articles. Open Access is currently not mandatory for PhD theses, even though it is often already the norm for theses, also at Flemish research institutions.
There are various ways in which researchers can publish their results in Open Access. The most conventional forms to be distinguished are as follows:
- Gold Open Access: When publishing in what is usually an online Open Access journal, whereby all publications are by definition publicly accessible;
- Green Open Access: When publishing in what is usually an online Open Access journal, whereby the author self-archives the article in an online database, often alongside publication in a conventional journal;
- Hybrid Open Access: This refers to an optional Open Access publication in traditional journals for an additional fee.
Under the current FWO regulations, the choice is left to the discretion of the researcher. The FWO expects at least the Green Open Access format. Moreover, any costs that may be associated with publishing in Open Access can be charged as bench fees as part of the FWO funding.
As a result of various initiatives and the associated growing general awareness of this issue, the Open Access landscape features an increasing number of high quality journals. At the same time, however, there is also a dramatic rise in the number of so-called predatory journals. Many of these journals charge high publication fees without offering a (high quality) peer review in return. This method of publishing is therefore in direct conflict with scientific integrity within the FWO and, more specifically, with the European Code of Ethics for Research Integrity. To enable researchers to identify these predatory journals and select Open Access journals that meet minimum quality requirements, a number of online sources are available, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Furthermore, it goes without saying that caution should be exercised at all times. A number of initiatives have been set up to guide researchers in this area, such as “Think. Check. Submit.
The FWO expects researchers to publish their research results in Open Access as soon as possible. When publishing in Green Open Access, some publishers may set an embargo period. The embargo period is the period that must elapse before the article can be made openly available and depends on the publisher and/or journal in question. Also the version of the article that the author is allowed to archive varies from one journal to another. For detailed information, please refer to the databases of SHERPA/RoMEO.
However, the FWO accepts a maximum embargo period of 12 months, which since 2018 has also been implemented in a federal law that gives authors the right (with retroactive effect) to make the results of their research, at least half of which was funded with public funds, freely available for social and human sciences after a period of twelve months and for other sciences after a period of six months (Art. XI.196, §2/1 of the Economic Law Code).