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Open Access in China: A breach in the Great Firewall?

You might not necessarily associate China with Open Access, but it has made rapid progress towards making more of its research publications open. Two powerful public agencies are instigating Open Access into Chinese scholarship - the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). Both signed the Berlin Declaration (2003 & 2004). Just last year Beijing co-hosted the Global Research Council that discussed the GRC Open Access Action Plan.

In the same month Nature reported that CAS and NSFC had announced their Open Access mandate that with immediate effect researchers must deposit their papers into online repositories to make public within 12 months of publication. This appears to be what we would call delayed, Green OA and mirrors the US National Institutes of Health mandate and Hefce's Open Access policy in the UK. The mandates apply to researchers (CAS/NSFC) and graduate students (CAS) and CAS also encourages its researchers to undertake retrospective deposit into institutional repositories (IRs). At the moment IRs are specified for deposit and the NSFC is developing its own IR. China Academic Institutional Repository currently lists thirty-three IRs.

The NFSC has developed a blueprint for progress that includes Gold OA, the NSFC's IR, global agreement on OA in publicly funded research and an ambitious global share portal.

Detail from Figure 1. Targeting of the HBB gene in human cells using CRISPR/Cas9 from Liang P, Xu Y, Zhang X, et al. (2015) CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human tripronuclear zygotes, Protein & Cell, DOI 10.1007/s13238-015-0153-5 [Available under Open Access]

There is no Open Access fund similar to the UK Research Councils' block grant to pay article processing charges, but researchers are permitted to use their grants to cover publication costs. This is the same as the position in Canada covered in our previous post.  As in the UK several institutions are members of publisher schemes like Springer/BioMed Central. China's total R&D investment was 1029.4 billion RMB in 2012 and rising [1]; despite the potential for a publishing bonanza, progress on Gold OA has been slow due to concerns over predatory journals and pricing transparency.  So in this respect the UK could be seen as taking the lead on immediate Open Access.

Although China's research output grows exponentially its citation impact is below the world average although it is competitive with other BRIC countries [2]. Overall, the Chinese agencies hope that OA publications will grow in proportion to the rapid growth of research publications and the expansion of the OA market with encouragement from publishing institutions.

China offers great potential for development in OA policy and infrastructure and there are many opportunities for publishers. However there is a strong science bias and humanities and social sciences have not at this stage been included in the mandate. There is great emphasis on bibliometrics but, unlike the UK, China does not have a regular research assessment exercise, as reported recently by Nature.  The current drive is to improve research quality over quantity.  If China succeeds it will be a major partner with the UK promoting Open Access inside and outside the Great Firewall.

1. Development of open access in China: strategies, practices and challenges, Zhang X, Insights 27(1), March 2014
2. Open Access in China: An Overview, Wang D, 1st OASPA Asian Conference, Bangkok, June 3rd 2014

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