Open access is the norm

Where are we now?

The results of publicly funded research must be freely available to all. By 2020, universities want to make all peer-reviewed articles by Dutch researchers open-access publications as standard. Following a request by the government, in 2013 the VSNU formulated a plan to achieve this goal.

‘The Dutch universities' strategy is unique on the international stage,’ says Koen Becking, executive open-access negotiator for the VSNU and Executive Board President at Tilburg University. Together with Tim van der Hagen, Executive Board President at Delft University of Technology, and Anton Pijpers, Executive Board President at Utrecht University, he leads executive negotiations with the major publishing houses.


Fltr: negotiators Koen Becking, Tim van der Hagen and Anton Pijpers.



Open access as part of VSNU negotiations, starting in 2014



Big deal: two years 100% open-access articles.

Latest update: after one year's extension in 2017 the big deal with 100% open access continues in 2018 – there is agreement on the main issues.




Partial agreement: two years open access for 20% of published articles.

Update: Big deal with 100% open access
2017 - 2019.




Partial agreement: three years open access for 10-20-30% of published articles.




Big deal: four years 100% open access.




Big deal: five years 100% open access.




Big deal: two years 100% open-access articles.


Latest update: Early 2018 an agreement on the main issues was established, extending the current agreement for another three years.




For these publishers an agreement on the main issues is about to be established; for both agreements open access is included, though in different ways.

The Dutch approach is such a success because the universities have formed a single negotiating body and are supported by the government. In this regard, Becking refers to the government's open-access policy, which was continued by the new government in 2017. Dutch universities and partners in the field such as NWO/ZonMw, KNAW and the NFU (Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres) are coordinating their open-access policies in order to deliver a clear and simple message: 100% open access will be the norm by 2020 at the latest. So what exactly does open access involve and whose interests does it serve?


november 2014


july 2015


december 2015


february 2016


may 2016


july 2016


february 2018


For up-to-date information see

What does open access actually mean and for whom is it important?

Most research is publicly funded and should therefore be freely available to the public. The Internet greatly facilitates digital and open-access publishing. Dutch universities are a huge supporter of open access and are constantly in contact with publishers on this issue. Results of scientific research are published in scientific journals that generally have high subscription costs, meaning only financially strong institutions such as universities and hospitals can afford to access them. Other interested parties, such as teachers, patients, policymakers or SMEs, do not have unrestricted access. Dutch universities believe science is not a luxury item and that everyone should be able to access and reuse it freely. After all, a significant proportion of research is publicly funded. In addition, open access is good for Dutch researchers: open-access publications are easier to find on the Internet and are therefore more frequently cited.

Open access is in the interest of:

  • researchers, as they can bring their results to the attention of a wider audience;
  • doctors, practitioners and patients, as they can access the latest developments in treatment methods;
  • businesses, as open access boosts the development and application of innovation;
  • scientists in developing countries, as they gain access to scientific knowledge;
  • teachers and pupils, as they can access knowledge to help them with their lessons/assignments.

Traditionally, subscriptions to scientific journals have been a major part of the universities' negotiations with publishers (conducted via the university libraries). They agree what are referred to as ‘big-deal contracts’ for collections/packages of multiple journals. Since the VSNU open-access project, the universities only extend their contracts with publishers if open access is offered to the researchers for no extra cost. The results have been impressive: two years of executive negotiations have increased the total percentage of open-access articles in the Netherlands from 20% in 2014 to 42% in 2016. In addition to 20% open-access articles from the ‘big-deal’ negotiations – also known as ‘hybrid’ open access – 9% of the articles are gold open access and 13% are green open access.


Green, gold and hybrid open access

Green open access

Green open access assumes that the authors will make their own articles open access by archiving the manuscript in an institutional or other repository. This is already possible at all universities in the Netherlands. Often, an embargo applies to the final version of articles published via a publishing house, although at almost all times, the researcher is free to archive draft versions of his/her manuscript in the repository (known as an author's version).

Gold open access

Gold open access publications are immediately made freely available online via the publisher's platform. With this type of open access, the author pays in advance (often via a research funder or institution) for the right to make the article freely accessible straight away. This payment is called an APC or Article Processing Charge.

Hybrid open access

The results of the Dutch universities' negotiations exclusively offer open-access publication of articles in traditional journals to authors at Dutch universities. The other articles in the journals remain solely accessible to the subscribers. Journals such as these survive based on readers' subscriptions, but they also make open articles available to non-subscribers. In this way, a form of hybrid access is created.

The Dutch universities are not alone in their endeavours. In 2017, the National Plan for Open Science (NPOS) was signed by ten coalition parties, and at the European level, an increasingly substantial amount of knowledge is being exchanged between universities and politicians. In Germany, an alliance of German universities has adopted a similar negotiating strategy (see the article in ‘Nature’). Broad support for open access is an important condition for making open access an international standard.


Photo: Ed van Rijswijk