A-Z Challenge: O — Open Access

As a researcher, these are probably my favourite words “Open Access”. This academic practice has changed not only my life but those of many other researchers too. I wanted to fully appreciate what Open Access has given the research and higher education community and asked myself a few questions:

What is Open Access?

In a world of paywalls and subscriptions, Open Access distributes research outputs online, free of cost or other access barriers. Applying an open license for copyright enables the removal of paywall and reuse barriers. Some of the principles of Open Access are set out in the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Science and Humanities which was written in October 2003. Additional to other Open Access initiatives, the Berlin Declaration highlights the internet’s possibilities and challenges with regards to Open Access. It was drafted to “promote the Internet as a functional instrument for a global scientific knowledge base and human reflection and to specify measures which research policy makers, research institutions, funding agencies, libraries, archives and museums need to consider.”

How does it work?

One of the key principles of Open Access is the method of peer-reviewed research literature. This evaluation method of one or more people with similar competencies helps to maintain quality standards. However, there are open access sources that are non-peer-reviewed academic writings. The brilliant thing about Open Access is that you usually have full re-use rights and you can get immediate access almost anywhere in the world thanks to the internet.

What are the different types of Open Access?

There are different variants of publishing Open Access material. Here are some examples but there are actually many more ways of publishing Open Access articles:

The golden route: For full Open Access journals, this route may involve a charge. The publication costs, known as ‘article processing charges’, are often covered by authors or by their institutions. However, charges are rarely applied. 

The green route: The full text of academic publications is available in a publicly accessible database that is managed by a research organisation, for example a university. This is often an additional option to being  published by publishers. Your publisher may permit this immediately, or after an embargo period.

What is needed?

Open access is part of a wider ‘open’ movement to encourage free exchange of knowledge and resources in order to widen access and encourage creativity. This is a very simplified goal and the sad reality is that one of the main reasons Open Access is actually needed is the rising costs of journal subscriptions which often cannot be covered by the institutions or libraries. Rising journal costs paired with the underfunding of academic institutions in the time of digitisation makes Open Access more needed than ever to have this free exchange of knowledge and resources that in turn benefits improvement and innovation. 

Who pays for it?

This is where it gets tricky. As previously said, some journals require the author to pay for the publication of their work. Having put all the effort and time into the research project, many researchers may opt to publish it in a journal that does not cost them any more money. However, some non-Open Access journals still require the researcher to pay some fees and some Open Access journals offer fee waivers. Trying to find the right journal to submit a potential publication to could almost be an entire research project on its own. 

Open Access and the School of Advanced Study

SAS actually actively engages and encourages Open Access. We have a designated portal for publishing Open Access material at SAS which is called SAS-Space. It serves as the School’s Open Access repository that makes the full text of research publications by staff and students accessible. 

It is definitely worth reading through the school’s policies but I want to point out that SAS has been allocated a block grant to cover costs of article processing charges which is very helpful if you would struggle for money to pay such fees. 

Overall, what dabbling in the topic of Open Access showed me is that it is a great initiative and actually not as complicated as it sounds. Sadly, Open Access has had somewhat of a bad reputation for many years (lacking the quality and good reputation of renowned journals) and only recently started to get more recognition. The pros definitely outweigh the cons: higher visibility and impact of your own research, more knowledge leads to better outcomes, and equality are some of the advantages Open Access gives to the research and academic communities. So get researching and writing to get your first (or maybe second, third…) publication on its way and make a name for yourself in the research community!

Written by Monja Stahlberger, IMLR PhD Candidate

Check out the other A-Z Challenge participants as well!


  1. What a great post! As a PhD candidate I got used to having access to journal articles and now that I’m not technically affiliated with a university I miss reading the latest research in my area. Open access material is a lifeline! One of the things I try to do is follow the research and put it into layman’s terms for other parents. (I started an online group for parents of adults who have Down syndrome.) Thank you for some of the details of open access.

    Here from A to Z. Visit me at http://theroadweveshared.com/blog where our theme is Down syndrome in the media.

  2. […] derived from the Albanian verb zotëroj, meaning “to Master”, Zotero is an open-source software that helps you collect, organise, and cite your research — indeed, master the data […]

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