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UZH Researchers Embrace Open Access

Researchers at UZH welcome the shift towards open access publishing, which makes academic work available publicly for free. Around half of researchers already publish their work with open access, according to a comprehensive survey carried out by the Main Library of the University of Zurich. Besides a number of positive results, the survey also revealed a need for more information.
Stefan Stöcklin


Online and free of charge: Publishing academic work in open access journals is becoming more and more common (Picture: PLOS)

The entire knowledge of the world only a few clicks away – open access publishing enables researchers as well as other interested people to read scientific publications for free and without restrictions. The aim of open access is to provide the public with free access to specialist publications that have been publicly funded.

In Switzerland, swissuniversities has developed a national open access strategy and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is leading the way: From 2020 onward, all publications financed with SNSF funds are to be digitally available for free.

The University of Zurich is among the first in Switzerland to have committed to this strategy and drawn up its own guidelines. The University requires its researchers to make their published work freely available in the Zurich Open Repository and Archive (ZORA), while also encouraging them to publish their findings in open access journals. The UZH Main Library’s open access team, headed up by Christian Fuhrer, can provide support if required.

Almost half already publish with open access

Against the backdrop of this ongoing publishing revolution, the Main Library carried out a survey on behalf of the Executive Board of the University to sound out opinions about the situation and needs of researchers at UZH with regard to open access.

The survey, in which 1,056 people – i.e. 11 percent of UZH’s academic staff – took part, was performed in late 2017, and its findings have now been made available. The responses give insights into what the key players – i.e. the researchers at UZH – think about open access. The most significant findings of the survey include:

  • A vast majority of respondents (81 percent) believe that scientific publications should in principle be made available online for free and without restriction. 60 percent of survey participants take a positive view of the complete move from the subscription model towards open access publishing. However, two thirds would also like to see printed books maintain their status.
  • Around a quarter of respondents (24 percent) state that they often or always publish their work in open access academic journals. Adding the 25 percent who say they occasionally do so, the percentage of respondents who publish in open access journals increases to 49 percent. Global and free access is given as the main motivation for publishing in open access publications. A quarter (26 percent) of researchers have never used open access publishing.
  • ZORA is known by 79 percent, while 44 percent say they have used the platform within the past 12 months. 28 percent know of the University’s open access memberships, with which the costs of publishing in an open access journal can be reduced.
  • Two thirds of respondents (66 percent) believe in principle that institutions of higher learning should provide more support when it comes to publishing scientific findings. 38 percent would welcome more support with publishing their data as open data. However, merely eight percent are aware of the Main Library’s advisory services offered in this area.
  • Those who have used the Main Library’s open access services are generally satisfied or very satisfied with the support provided.
  • 56 percent think that the open access publishing fees of publishers are too high, and 50 percent believe the publishers are rewarded twice thanks to the open access costs and the subscription costs.
  • 43 percent of survey respondents state that they haven’t paid any fees for publishing in an open access journal. For those who have paid fees, these came to on average 1,765 Swiss francs per published work. When it comes to subscription journals, 53 percent of respondents say that they haven’t paid any money. If there were costs, they amounted to an average of 1,210 Swiss francs per publication. These results shine a different light on the popular notion that the existing subscription model is free for researchers.
  • What’s striking is that 49 percent of those surveyed would be willing to do without access to journals if publishers were to demand journal fees that UZH found to be unacceptable. Moreover, a 65 percent majority would also be prepared to step down from their role on an editorial board.

Open access embraced by many

The people who organized the survey take a cautiously optimistic view on the results: “The high rate of approval regarding the principle of free and open access is generally very encouraging,” says Wilfried Lochbühler, Director of the Main Library.

Another positive aspect is the 40 percent share of open access publications by UZH researchers, emphasizes Christian Fuhrer, who heads up the open access team. “Overall, the survey shows clearly that researchers support the transformation process that’s taking place in publishing,” says Fuhrer.

However, the survey has revealed that action needs to be taken with regard to raising awareness for the open access services offered by UZH’s Main Library. While the quality of the services is good, there are still too few researchers who are using them.

“We have to raise the profile of our services,” say both Lochbühler and Fuhrer.  Too many members of UZH still feel ill-informed when it comes to open access topics: 63 percent of respondents aren’t familiar with UZH’s open access guidelines, while 45 percent think information on the topic is difficult to track down.

For example, only a small number of researchers are aware of the publication server HOPE (Hauptbibliothek Open Publishing Environment, which enables researchers of the University of Zurich to publish in open access journals hosted by UZH.

Bridging information gaps
These figures appear less dramatic given that a comparable survey at ETH Zurich yielded figures that were at a similarly low level. Those in charge of the survey point out that they can also be explained by the limited resources available to the Main Library of the University of Zurich. But they also believe that it’s clear that the awareness for UZH’s open access services should be increased as much as possible.

“We need to bridge the information gap and raise awareness for the services offered by the Main Library,” emphasizes Lochbühler. The plan is to build on the information channels that are currently being used, such as websites, e-mail, events (open access week), exhibitions, by also organizing workshops and taking systematic information measures. Because one thing is clear, believes Lochbühler: “Open access is the way of the future.”