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A whistle-stop tour of Open Access in China

Open Access is not a research issue. It’s not a European issue. It’s not a publisher or policy issue. Open Access is a global issue.

Knowledge is a public good, and forms the basis of an environment in which everyone can develop and build inclusively. It can help to inspire publication innovation and entrepreneurship. Open Access to research sits at the core of this on a global level.

As part of our ‘Open Science Stars’ series, we’ve been trying to expose some of the views and experiences of people from the world of open around the world. This global perspective is important, because researchers have a responsibility to contribute to the open sharing of results around the world, and not take a free ride based on elite privilege.

Open Access and China

Today, we wanted to delve a bit into the status of OA in China. Recently, we partnered with Higher Education Press, one of the top publishers in China, to index one of their flagship journals, and to demonstrate China’s continued support for more open research practices. China has committed to rapid growth in scientific research and development recently, and this is reflected in the solid evidence for a strongly developing open access research base.

Here are several facts to get things started.

  1. Public research and development funding in China is around 2% of GDP, and increasing more than 10-15% each year.
  2. Between 2002 and 2013, the growth of Chinese research papers went from 5.6% to 13.9% of the world total (source).
  3. China is the third most cited country in the world.
  4. Both the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Science Foundation for China (NSFC) signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access in 2004.

Historical developments

Since 2004, there have been a number of large-scale changes in Open Access in China. In 2007 and 2009, the issue of copyright and licensing was discussed in two conferences in Beijing. This was followed up in 2010 by the 8th annual Berlin Conference on Open Access being hosted in Beijing. Two years later, China’s first Open Access Week was launched, looking at international trends, policies and experiences in the world of open. In 2014, the GRC Summit reviewed Open Access developments, with CAS working at the core of this. All of this has contributed to the promotion and strategic development of national Open Access policies within an international collaborative framework.

Timeline of OA progress in China (credit: Xiaolin Zhang)
Timeline of OA progress in China (credit: Xiaolin Zhang)

In 2012, a survey showed that of the 1868 core academic journals in China, 642 were open access (34.4%). These were widely distributed across medicines and science, with a high proportion of university led journals too. However, another survey from around the same time showed that of these almost half had no formal policy regarding re-use, with only 7% adopting Creative Commons licensing. Additionally, the self-archiving policies for many of these journals was generally mixed, with 30% having again no formal policy. Only 19% explicitly allowed it though, with 44% remaining indifferent.

Even in 2008, journals in China were being set up using the Open Journal Systems platform. The International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is a born OA journal, that charges just $50 per page (price from 2014), and 85% of the content it publishes are from international researchers.

The current status of OA in China

On May 15, 2014, the NSFC and CAS announced that they were focusing on the green OA route (i.e., self-archiving of papers), with public access after an embargo period of no more than 12 months. In May 2015, the NSFC additionally launched an OA repository in support of this policy statement. Within a year of launching, this Open Repository had impressively archived over 135,000 papers from over 1,300 institutions.

CAS has now implemented two OA portals, the Institutional Repository Grid of Chinese Academy of Sciences, which aggregates content from 102 repositories, and the China Open Access Journal Portal, which archives content from across hundreds of journals.

The Great Wall of China from when ScienceOpen last visited! (credit: Stephanie Dawson)
The Great Wall of China from when ScienceOpen last visited! (credit: Stephanie Dawson)

Almost all major funding bodies allow the use of research grants to fund the article-processing charges often required for OA, and there is moderate support often with 50% of APCs being accounted for directly from the funders. The result of this has been an increase in the number of OA papers by Chinese authors, including almost 10,000 in PLOS from January 2010-October 2013.

SCOAP3 also has a working group in China that has been helping to transform one of the major Chinese publishers, Higher Education Press, into a full OA model. As of 2013, there were 87 institutional repositories functioning in China, achieving more than 6.3 million downloads between 2010 and 2013. More than 75% of articles here were full text open access, representing half a million articles in 2013.

What does the future of OA look like in China?

As with many other nations, the strategic direction for China involves creating a stronger commitment to OA, and developing support for infrastructure and green OA (self-archiving) as the core focus. Management of research data is also an emerging area in China, in particular for librarians as a key skill. Much of the driving force behind this growth is coming from the Chinese government, which will be crucial for large-scale implementation of OA.

To achieve this, research communities also need to become more strongly embedded in the policy process and discussion about aspects such as rights retention and evaluation. Funding OA will always be an issue, and needs to be implemented in a transparent, reasonable and affordable way.

More recently, there have been several other key events including the Third Chinese Institutional Repository Conference in Shanghai (September 2015), and the Fourth China Open Access Week conference (October 2015) in Beijing. There have been many more events throughout 2016, and numerous others planned for the future, so the development of Open Access in China is certainly an important space to be watching!

Sources and further reading

Chinese agencies announce open-access policies, Nature News (link)

Open Access in China, COAR Annual Meeting 2016 (link)

Open Access and open research data in China, EIFL (link)

A window into open access publishing in China, BioMed Central (link)

Development of open access in China: strategies, practices, challenges (link)