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India’s major science funders join open-access push

Two of India’s major science funding agencies are joining the push to make the results of the research they fund freely available to the public.

India’s Ministry of Science & Technology earlier this month announced it will require researchers who receive even just part of their funding from its biotechnology and science and technology departments to deposit copies of their papers in publicly accessible depositories. The two departments are the primary government sources for life science research funding in India.

Researchers are required to submit papers to a repository within 2 weeks of acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal. Some papers may not become freely available for 6 to 12 months, however, if the journal asks for a delay to protect its subscription revenue. In including such delays, India’s policy tracks similar policies adopted by many other public and private funding agencies around the world.

“[I]t is important that the information and knowledge generated through the use of [public] funds are made publicly available as soon as possible,” states the 12 December statement announcing the new policy.

“It is a step in the right direction,” says Shahid Jameel, CEO of the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance in New Delhi, a collaboration between the research charity Wellcome Trust and the biotechnology department. Jameel says the policy is likely to affect “an overwhelming majority of scientific research in India” that is supported by public funds disbursed by the Indian government.

“This is a hugely positive move forward on what appears to be an inevitability for all funders, globally,” says Mark Hahnel, founder of figshare, an online repository based in London. “Open access to research is rapidly becoming de facto research.”

Under the policy, any institution that receives funding from the two departments will be required to set up a digital repository that will archive papers written by researchers at that institution. The ministry, in turn, will maintain a “central harvester” linked to each of the institutional repositories; it will allow users to search for papers across the entire system. If an institution does not yet have its own institutional repository, researchers can temporarily use central repositories maintained by the two funding departments.

The policy is retroactive; it applies to all papers that are the products of funding awarded since fiscal year 2012 to 2013. “Authors are recommended to also deposit manuscripts of their earlier publications even if they are unrelated to current projects” funded by the departments, the policy states.

The policy also requires researchers to submit “metadata and supplementary materials” associated with a paper, but does not directly articulate a policy requiring the public posting and free use of all publicly funded data. “The current policy in India does not demand open data,” Jameel notes. “But the global mood today is shifting toward open data.”

Posting a paper in a repository is no substitute for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, the policy suggests. Officials “expect that the recipients of funding will publish their research in high quality, peer-reviewed journals,” it states.

Institutions will also have to plan annual “Open Access Day” activities that promote the free sharing of research results, the policy states. The activities, which could include “sensitizing lectures, programmes, workshops and taking new open access initiatives,” should occur during International Open Access Week, which in 2015 is set for 19 to25 October.