June 5, 2024


📰 FEATURE STORY

Is “One Nation, One Subscription” right for India?

Gaining access to journals and research can often be cumbersome for academics, researchers, and scientists. In 2022, the United States announced that all taxpayer-funded research would be made available to people by the end of 2025. It was a significant step forward in open access (OA) publishing.

In India, OA publishing’s history has been chequered. There has been some progress with institutional initiatives. However, the broader landscape is fractured since we don’t have a streamlined national OA mandate. The government wanted to change that with the “One Nation One Subscription” plan it announced in 2020. Can the government ensure it can come up with a workable model with publishers? Does such a scheme make sense?

Context

The Indian government funds half of all scientific research in the country. There has long been a crusade among those advocating for open access that India needs to give people better and more access to research. There was some good news in February 2019 when the principal scientific adviser to the government, K VijayRaghavan, announced that India would join cOAlition S or Plan S as it was called, an ambitious effort by Europe to lower the costs of scientific publishing and improve access to scientific literature.

Later that year, he backtracked and said India wouldn’t join the group but would pursue its own plan to negotiate with publishers. He said the government had already begun consultations with publishers, academics, and scientists.

Here’s how it works. When scientists submit their manuscripts to a journal, their work is reviewed and published as a paper. If the journal is subscription-based, the paper goes behind a paywall. OA journals adopt one of two approaches. They either publish the paper and allow scientists to self-archive a copy somewhere else where it’s free or charge scientists who authored the paper an article-processing charge (APC) and make the published paper available for free.

According to some estimates, India’s scientists produce the fifth-highest number of scientific papers yearly. We’re behind the US, China, the UK, and Germany. As stated earlier, the Indian government funds most of the research, about 45%. It’s followed by state governments with 7.4% and public sector industries with 5.5%. If the government did join Plan S, all of its funded research would be available for free.

India’s alternative is the One Nation One Subscription model. The government would negotiate with journals and publishers on a fixed bulk price. The plan is for a central repository for all kinds of data generated from publicly-funded research for free. In cases concerning privacy, national security, or intellectual property rights, the data will be suitably redacted.

When it was announced in 2020, the start date for the model was April 2023. That’s come and gone, and there has been little to no movement. Should the government go ahead with it or scrap it?

VIEW: It should be implemented

For research scholars, scientists, and academics, the One Nation One Subscription model will be a boon. The government wants India to become a haven for research. If that’s to happen, then access to information will be vital. It’s an excellent way to democratise information that would otherwise only be available to a select few due to paywalls. During the 1980s and 1990s, India saw a decline in the number of research journals being subscribed by educational and research institutions due to higher access costs.

It’s estimated that several government-funded consortia and higher education institutions spend over â‚č1,500 crore annually to access information. Since the requirements of numerous institutions are common, negotiating at a national level for a single database will be economical. It takes India into a new frontier for Open Access information. For the first phase, resources from 70 publishers were recommended by the Planning and Execution Committee (PEC).

It would obviously be unreasonable to expect publishers to make the literature free for everyone. By eliminating the need for individual and institutional subscriptions, the government has the opportunity to increase access. The collective bargaining power of the government will result in greater value for money.

COUNTERVIEW: Not the right approach

The model sounds too good to be true. It’s unlikely to result in a better deal. As OA advocate Subbiah Arunachalam has stated, commercial publishers will get the best out of the negotiations with a small, centralised group to enforce their business interests, unlike several entities like institutional libraries. For publishers, the main worry is how much commercial interest will they retain. There’s a real possibility that this exercise will become simply too expensive with taxpayer money going to rich publishers.

Unless we know which publishers are on board and what their conditions are, we shouldn’t celebrate. That’s another issue – we know next to nothing about the ongoing negotiation process, which is taking a long time. While such a model has been implemented in places like Egypt and Uruguay, they’re much smaller than India in population. India’s fragmented nature of journal subscriptions with multiple institutions poses a basic challenge – arriving at a single cost for a nationwide subscription.

India has around a dozen library consortia funded by several agencies. Many publishers are increasingly moving to a model where researchers pay to make their papers available online. Would a subscription model be the right approach if researchers need to pay journals again to make their papers accessible to everyone? Some have argued that the best approach would be for the government to strengthen academic journals in India, where preprints and manuscripts can be freely deposited and accessed by everyone.

Reference Links:

  • Research Publishing: Is ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ Pragmatic Reform for India? – The Wire
  • What Is the Status of India’s ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ Plan? – The Wire
  • Open access: A problem way beyond one nation one subscription – Times of India
  • Low-cost science and technology journal scheme hangs fire – The Telegraph
  • Muthu Madhan: ‘One nation one subscription’ is an elusive goal – Open Interview

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The “One Nation, One Subscription” model is right for India.

b) The “One Nation, One Subscription” model is wrong for India.


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