Research funders play a key role in the science sector. Excellent research would hardly be possible without the multifaceted support of a wide range of funding organisations. At the same time, through their funding-allocation and research-assessment procedures, research funders exert influence – especially over the publication of the results of research.

Research funders and science organisations are increasingly committing themselves to the goal of open access to the results of publicly funded research. An important motive in this regard is the enhancement of the national and international visibility of research results and, thus, the consolidation of the respective country's position as a centre of science and research – also in competition with other countries. Open access is also of central importance when it comes to promoting interdisciplinary research and international collaboration, because, in times of tight budgets, funds are often lacking to enable scholars and scientists to access the publications of other disciplines. That financial means are no longer sufficient to procure all resources of possible relevance to research is something that no longer applies only to emerging and developing countries. Research results published in open access are optimally re-usable. Moreover, open access promotes the transparency of research results and facilitates quality assurance in science and scholarship.

From the perspective of science organisations and public-sector research funders, one reason for supporting open access to scientific and scholarly information is to create an equivalent value of the public funding of research and to bring about a situation where research results generated with public funds are, as far as possible, also publicly accessible and thus available for everyone to use. The possibilities of obliging funding recipients to provide open access to their research results are availed of, for example, by the EU and by the members of the international consortium of research funders cOAlition S.

For research funders, it is ultimately a question of maximising the benefits of the research they fund. Because open access maximises the reach of research results, it contributes to the achievement of this goal. Funding organisations – be they public-sector or private agencies – should therefore explicitly require open access and incorporate this requirement into their grant agreements.

Many funding organisations have published an open access policy, in which they adopt a clear position on open access and with which they align their future funding strategy. As a rule, the policy specifies the concrete funding measures and priorities that arise from the organisation's position on open access and the conditions under which funding will be provided.

The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities has been signed by a large number of research funders, including the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Swiss National Science Foundation(SNSF), and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). At European level, the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF) have committed themselves in their Visions on a European Research Area to the goal of open access to the results of publicly funded research, and have presented a catalogue of measures to reach this goal. Further information on the open access policies of research funders in Europe is provided by the SHERPA Juliet database. The strategic coordination of support for open access with other research funders and science organisations has been undertaken, for example, by the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany within the framework of its Priority Initiative "Digital Information".

In addition to the science- and research-policy endorsement of open access, funding organisations can develop activities, particulary in the following areas, to support open access:

  • Public relations and awareness raising
  • Publication costs
  • Open access funding programmes and instruments

Public relations and awareness raising

The public-relations and awareness-raising measures that research funders pursue in support of open access are diverse. They range from appropriately designed areas on the websites of the respective funders, through brochures and other information material, to conducting studies on the extent of scholars' and scientists' knowledge of open access. Concrete awareness-raising activities are also part of the task profile (the DFG has also funded the information platform open-access.net). Other examples are the JISC's Briefing Paper on Open Access, the Wellcome Trust's Guide to Open Access, the DFG study Publikationsstrategien im Wandel? (Publication Strategies in Transformation?), and the information on open access in the EU-funded portal OpenAIRE.

However, the most important measure is to clearly communicate and make transparent the funding organisation's own open access policy and the funding measures and priorities associated with it. Scholars and scientists tend to prefer to disseminate their research results in conventional, tried-and-tested forms of publication rather than trying out new dissemination channels. This is especially the case when they are not familiar with the research funder's stance on open access, and they assume that electronic publications do not receive the desired level of recognition, for example in funding proposals. Moreover, some authors, especially those in the humanities, have reservations about open access. Hence, it is a question of addressing their fears and rebutting their prejudices.

Costs of Open Access publishing

From the point of view of scholarly and scientific authors, the most important instrument for the promotion of open access by research funders is undoubtedly the provision of financial support for open access publishing. In the context of their open access policy, research funders usually specify the framework within which and the award criteria and modalities according to which author-side publication fees will be borne.

In recent years, various ways of bearing the costs of open access publication fees have become an established part of research funders' practices. The requirement to provide open access to research results is increasingly linked to the provision of funds for open access publications. Corresponding funding offerings are provided, for example, by Research Councils UK (see the RCUK Policy on Open Access) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Within the framework of its Open Access Publishing Programme, the German Research Foundation (DFG) supports the establishment of publication funds at German universities (see Business Models).

Research organisations also bear publication costs directly – either retrospectively on separate application (e.g., in the case of the FWF) or as a part of the total project funding applied for (e.g., in the case of the DFG and the European Commission).

Open Access funding programmes and instruments

Within its funding programme "Infrastructure for Electronic Publications and the Digital Communication of Science", which is administered by its Scientific Library Services and Information Systems (LIS) group, the DFG offers funding opportunities for projects in the area of open access. In the past, funding has been provided for open access journals and repositories, the development of business models for electronic publishing (e.g., for open access monographs), and, not least, for the information platform open-access.net and the German-language information platform Open Journal Systems (OJS).

The European Commission strongly supports and promotes open access, and funds several projects in the context of open access and open science. Since 2009, within the framework of OpenAIRE and its three follow-up projects, OpenAIREplus, OpenAIRE2020, and OpenAIREAdvance, the implementation of open access throughout Europe has been funded and a technical infrastructure and a Europe-wide information service have been made available. The latter service advises and supports researchers and institutions in implementing open access. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is being developed within the framework of the EOSCpilot project. Building on the existing open science infrastructure, the HIRMEOS project aims to develop prototypes of innovative services for open access monographs. Other funded projects include PASTEUR4OA, which aims to contribute to the Europe-wide harmonisation of open access policies that align with the open access policy within Horizon 2020, and the FOSTER project and its follow-up project, FOSTER Plus, whose primary objective is a Europe-wide training programme to help scholars and scientists, librarians, and other participants to implement open science practices in their daily workflows. 

Linking funding to Open Access

The possibilities of obliging funding recipients to provide open access to their research results are availed of, for example by the EU and by the members of the international consortium of research funders cOAlition S

The strongest impulse currently comes from the European Commission, which emphatically endorses open access and open science and has made open access mandatory for all funding recipients in the Horizon 2020 (2014–2020) programme. This affects many large research projects – the current Horizon 2020 framework programme has a total volume of approximately 80 billion euros.

Seventeen national and international research funders, as well as the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), have formed cOAlition S. With “Plan S”, they are pursuing a strategy of ensuring public access to scientific publications generated by publicly funded research. Members of cOAlition S include, for example, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the French Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR), the Research Council of Norway (RCN), the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Public support for Plan S has been expressed, for example, by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

The German Research Foundation (DFG) expects its funding recipients to endeavour to provide open access to publications resulting from grants. As a rule, however, the DFG does not mandate open access.

In Switzerland, the Swiss National Science Foundation requires its funding recipients to provide open access to publications resulting from grants; it provides funding opportunities for this purpose. The Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW) has formulated recommendations on open access.

In Austria, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) also obliges its funding recipients to provide green or gold open access to publications resulting from grants. In the case of gold open access, the FWF mandates the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence (see the FWF’s Open Access Policy).

British and U.S. research funders – for example, the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health – make the award of funds contingent upon the provision of open access to research results generated by funded projects.

Most public-sector research funders expect open access to be provided through journals (gold open access) or via the green road to open access (self-archiving), subject to the respective embargo periods. Moreover, the EU requires, for example, that gold open access publications be additionally deposited in an open access repository. Funders do not always mandate the use of an open licence. Under Plan S, however, all publications must be published under an open licence. Funding organisations can exert a strong influence by obliging funding recipients to immediately deposit their publications in an open access repository (indicating the duration of the embargo period in the repository) and by specifying the maximum embargo period. Requiring grantees to make an additional copy of their publications available to the public in a repository specified by the research funder, irrespective of the open access journal or repository they have chosen, is one of the range of possibilities.