The Netherlands: paving the way for Open Access

Open access in the Netherlands

Publicly funded scientific research should be freely accessible. With this basic principle firmly in mind, in 2014, the Dutch started negotiations with eight large national and international scholarly publishers, which have already borne fruit. The Netherlands is the fastest growing open access country in the world. Globally, the Netherlands is even considered an agent of change, paving the way for other countries with open access ambitions.

Dutch universities believe that everyone should have open access to scholarly articles. After all, most research is publicly funded. Open access allows researchers to disseminate their results to a wider audience, which is something that can benefit all of society.

The Dutch government is also strongly in favour of open access. The Dutch Secretary of State for Science wants to work towards 100% open access publications in the Netherlands by 2024, as he announced in his letter to the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament of November 15, 2013.

In their struggle for open access, universities are negotiating with big publishing houses regarding journal subscriptions, which are also known as ‘big deal’ negotiations. For around ten years, these subscriptions have been offered by publishers in package deals. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU, its Dutch acronym) has indicated that universities will only extend subscription contracts under the condition that publishers are willing to take serious steps towards open access. Contrary to normal practice, the VSNU and UKB —a consortium of thirteen Dutch university libraries and the National Library of the Netherlands— took negotiations to the highest administrative level. Whereas normally, the boards of the libraries are expected to meet with publishers, this is now done by three Executive Board Presidents: Gerard Meijer (Radboud University Nijmegen), Koen Becking (Tilburg University), Jaap Winter (VU University Amsterdam). They negotiate on behalf of the VSNU, with the mandate of all universities and university libraries. This means that there is attention on this subject at the highest administrative level from the outset. The VSNU-negotiators had the privilege of being chosen to negotiate with the publishers on behalf of all research universities and universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands, all university libraries, and the National Library of the Netherlands (KB). That is, on behalf of the Netherlands as a whole.

Although there are also forms of collective negotiating by a consortium in other countries, it often takes a different form. Sometimes consortiums negotiate by region, such as in Spain and America. In France, for example, government itself negotiates on behalf of universities. The United Kingdom and Austria use collective bargaining techniques, where representative organizations are established for this purpose. The Dutch bargaining model made it possible to create the momentum for this important issue. This, accompanied by clear political support, considerably strengthened the power and position of the negotiators at the negotiating table.

The principles of the Dutch negotiating team were as clear as glass from the outset, and these principles will not be compromised. For example, in the eyes of the Dutch Universities, the transition to open access should be budget neutral. This means that we do not want to pay extra for open access publishing.

Publishers have responded variably, because open access would constitute a dramatic change to the existing business model. Some publishers want to make the switch right away, while others are willing to do so in smaller steps. Nevertheless, it has been possible to reach agreements with a number of publishers, such as Springer, Wiley, Sage and Elsevier. The latest agreement, a four year deal with Wiley, enables Dutch corresponding authors to submit unlimited open access publications in Wiley’s hybrid journals (c. 1400). Furthermore, these individual authors face no additional costs. Under the old system, academics were required to pay an additional sum of money for the open access publication of an article they had written, over and above the subscription costs that the universities were already paying for access to Wiley journals.

Neighboring countries are benefiting from the road that Netherlands is taking, because it raises (political) awareness and provides best practices. It encourages other countries to make progress in the field of open access, which conversely helps the Netherlands to continue to develop. This reciprocity is necessary, because not all publishers are convinced that the time has come for open access. The Dutch presidency of the EU in 2016 could help to stimulate its development across Europe.

The Dutch negotiations have not gone unnoticed. ‘Dutch lead European push to flip journals to open access’, was headlined in Nature on 6 January 2016. In this article, the author states that ‘the Netherlands is leading what it hopes will be a pan-European effort in 2016 to push scholarly publishers towards open-access business models’.

The train has left the station and the Dutch are on a clear course to achieving their goal. There is no going back now!

Robert van der Vooren

Program manager Open Access at the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). Email: