Govt recommends ‘one nation-one subscription’ plan for scientific journals

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NEW DELHI: The Union ministry of science and technology has recommended a ‘one nation-one subscription policy’ for scientific journals that would allow all universities, research institutions and even individuals in India access to published papers that often have prohibitive costs. The proposal is part of its upcoming Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, 2020 (STIP).
The move is also likely to reduce the average annual subscription cost of Rs 1,500 crore incurred by institutes in the country, officials in the ministry said. The government will negotiate with prestigious Europe and UK-based scientific publishers such as Reed-Elsevier, Springer-Nature and Wiley Blackwell — three of which dominate more than 50% of the publishing market — to establish nationwide subscriptions rather than individual agreements with institutions.
Dr Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, science and technology ministry, said due to high costs subscription to such literature can often be limited to premier institutes. “The overall goal is democratisation of knowledge,” he said, adding that the policy wanted to ensure access for individual researchers or institutes who can’t afford it.
The Centre’s proposal is also deliberating if the government should also bear the cost of article processing charges (APCs) — the amount a researcher pays to publishers for carrying their works. APCs for researchers in India range between US$1,700-3,000.
A joint study in 2017 by Professor Subbiah Arunachalam, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Azim Premji University’s librarian Muthu Madhan, who is now part of advisory thematic group on STIP 2020, had estimated the cost of publishing papers (APC) from India for a five-year period at US$16 billion dollars (Rs 134 crore).
This was way above the annual library budget of institutions for subscribing to journals, which industry experts put at between Rs 5 crore to Rs 30 crore.
The APC proposal has, however, divided the STIP panel, with some in favour of gold model — where journals should allow open access with APCs that either the researcher or the government would pay for— and others in favour of green model — where Indian institutes or funding agencies maintain an online repository of peer-reviewed manuscripts but allowing authors the freedom to publish their work separately in journals.
Panelists like Madhan and National Law University’s associate professor Arul George Scaria have argued that an APC model can harm “self-respect of researchers” and “paying to publish was an ethically suspicious step in science”. They said that public funds should not be used for payment of APCs, directly or indirectly.
Professor Rahul Siddarthan, Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, said a proposed solution is for negotiation with reputable open access journals that charge APCs with either of the two options. “Option one is that similar to subscriptions, an annual lump sum may be paid by the Indian government to these journals, in return for the right of authors from anywhere in India to submit to these journals without being charged an APC on acceptance. Alternatively, an APC gateway may be set up by the Indian government where these journals will directly invoice payments, without involving authors in the process.”

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