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What does the new tri-agency open access policy mean for researchers?

More choice for authors of scholarly publications is central to the new policy


Canada’s Tri-Agency of federal research funders is set to implement a harmonized, mandatory open access (OA) policy requiring that all federally funded, peer-reviewed journal publications be made freely accessible within 12 months of publication. Research funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is subject to the policy, which takes effect on May 1st.

Federally-funded researchers have three options to comply with the policy:

1. Publish your article in a journal of your choice and deposit your accepted manuscript for free in an OA repository (i.e., the “green” option).

This is a no-cost option for complying with the OA policy. Grant recipients can archive their final peer-reviewed, full-text manuscript in an online repository where it must be freely accessible within 12 months of publication (e.g., institutional repository or discipline-based repository). It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.

2. Publish your article in a traditional journal of your choice and pay to have your article made OA (i.e., a hybrid journal with the “gold” option).

Generally for an author-paid fee, after acceptance your article can be published in a hybrid journal that offers both traditional subscription-based access and author-paid OA options. Your article will be immediately free to read and reuse upon being made open access.

3. Publish in a fully OA journal (i.e., the “gold” option).

Generally for an article-processing charge paid by the author, your article, once accepted, will be immediately free to read and reuse upon publication, along with all other articles published by the OA journal.

These three options are not mutually exclusive and researchers can deposit a copy of the final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an accessible online repository immediately upon publication, even if the article is freely available through the journal’s website.


The new OA policies ensure that research funded through public support is made available to everyone, including the public, resource managers and policy makers. While the benefits are clear, there are changes in the way costs are covered associated with these policy shifts.

Subscription-based journals have been the mainstay of scholarly publishers. The OA movement has caused a shift in how science is communicated to the world. Although a great deal of research is published in subscription-based journals, OA journals are becoming increasingly popular, a trend that is likely to continue as Canada and other nations encourage publicly funded research to be made open access.

Authors can choose ‘green’ open access in which their research paper is submitted to an online repository and made freely available (Art by Raymond K. Nakamura;
Authors can choose ‘green’ open access in which their research paper is submitted to an online repository and made freely available (Art by Raymond K. Nakamura;

Since authors have choice, they can choose the “green route” and publish their work in any journal of their choice, while still complying with the OA policy by submitting their paper to an OA repository (see Canadian Association of Research Libraries list of repositories). Authors may choose to pay to make their articles open-access in a traditional subscription-based journal as well, without the need to deposit their manuscript in a repository; journals that offer this option are termed hybrid journals. In that sense, subscription-based journals are likely to remain relevant. With a continually growing selection of fully OA journal outlets offering the “gold” option, however, authors now have more choice than ever before.

Authors can choose ‘gold’ open access in which they pay a fee to have their article published in a hybrid or fully open access journal (Art by Raymond K. Nakamura;
Authors can choose ‘gold’ open access in which they pay a fee to have their article published in a hybrid or fully open access journal (Art by Raymond K. Nakamura;

University libraries and research institutions, which purchase subscriptions to make journals available to researchers and students, will now be able to provide greater access to published research. For small institutions, both academic and private, this means that individuals will be able to access published works that would have been unavailable to them before implementation of the OA policy. Where, previously, subscription-based paywalls could have closed doors to researchers, the OA policy should now give researchers and students greater access to published works.

The public, whose tax-dollars help to fund tri-agency research, will now have unprecedented access to scholarly publications. This puts researchers in a position to reach audiences beyond the academic community. With greater power comes greater responsibility since, depending on the discipline, the onus may fall to the authors to write their papers in a way that makes the research accessible to a broader audience. For example, in fields such as conservation biology, there is a growing movement towards citizen science, where members of the general public are involved in scientific projects and are engaged in using and contributing to the literature. With the OA movement, citizen scientists will have greater access to the field of conservation biology, and that may enhance research activities.

The new OA policies represent a new direction for scholarly publishing and provide new opportunities for authors, universities, research institutions and stakeholders, from the public to policymakers. At the heart of the OA policy is more choice for authors than ever before.

Michael Donaldson is the content development manager at Canadian Science Publishing, an independent, not-for-profit scholarly publisher that publishes the NRC Research Press suite of journals. Jenny Ryan is a founding member and secretary of Science Borealis, Canada’s science blogging aggregator and community. Tanya Samman is the open access journal coordinator at CSP, responsible for the launch of a new multidisciplinary open access journal.


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  1. Julia M. Wright / April 28, 2015 at 10:59

    This all sounds great, and I certainly support the principle of making research more readily accessed, though I share the concern of many that Article Processing Charges will transfer money from research towards (non-Canadian) publishers’ profit margins.

    But the great silence in article after article on this subject is copyright: in many disciplines, quoting and/or reproducing creative material is required for the argument to make any sense. We routinely ask for “permissions” from copyright-holders (galleries for art-works, publishers or creators for music and literature, sometimes lawyers responsible for estates). They just as routinely do not give permission for digital reproduction because it would effectively, if not legally, negate their rights over the work. One colleague required over 100 letters of permission for a recent project; in not one case were digital rights granted. Some day the small art gallery in Belgium might be able to afford giving away its control over its original artworks, or the poet struggling to make a living might turn down a few hundred dollars a year in permissions–but not in the foreseeable future.

    Some scholars are looking at the policy and deciding they can’t apply for research funding any more; there is no way for them out of this bind, even though many during the consultation asked for there to be some kind of room to acknowledge that some research cannot, for legal reasons, be posted freely online. Every “utopia” is exclusionary in some way–so is this one.

  2. Ernie Prokopchuk / April 29, 2015 at 14:00

    I like the idea of open source publishing and it would be great to have access to more of the literature but will there be an appropriate increase to the level of tri-agency funding from the government? Researchers will need larger grants so that they can cover the expenses associated with the “gold option”. Otherwise there ends up being far less choice. Being forced into the “green option” due to budget constraints would mean being limited in which journals a researcher can publish their work.

  3. Robert Berard / April 30, 2015 at 01:06

    I don’t see a major problem with this policy applying to “federally-funded researchers” who are doing federally-funded research or to work published in federally-funded peer-reviewed journals. Of greater concern is the potential for the policy to be applied to researchers who do not seek or depend on federal funding or to journals that operate without federal subsidies.

    The often contentious research ethics protocols of the Tri-Agency have been imposed, through the universities, on researchers who do not accept federal funding and who publish in non-subsidized journals. Is it merely a matter of time before universities are persuaded to force all faculty members to deposit their work in an Open Access repository?

  4. Rowland Lorimer / May 13, 2015 at 15:22

    This article may confuse a good many Canadian social science and humanities scholars. Technically, the 3 options presented are correct, but only if delayed open access journals are included as OA journals. Many Canadian SSH journals offer open access after 12 months. I would have added that as a fourth option: Publish in a Canadian journal that offers delayed open access.
    I think that it would also have been useful to remind readers that the policy only applies to research funded by the Tri-Agencies. And finally, I think that it would have been useful to remind readers that the ability of subscription-based journals to provide delayed open access is entirely dependent on Canadian research libraries continuing to subscribe to Canadian journals.