Credit: Heming Zhang

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Researchers from African research institutions and universities in low-income countries (LICs) or lower-middle-income countries (LMICs), whose work is accepted for publication in Nature and the Nature research journals, can now publish their work open access (OA) at no cost.

The initiative aims to remove one of the major barriers facing researchers from over 70 countries, 39 of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa. It recognises that local funding is rarely available for publishing OA in specialist journals like Nature, which typically charge a very high article processing charge (APC), making it difficult for authors from these countries who are less well-funded.

The move has been welcomed - with some caveats - by scientists in Sub-Sahara African countries.

Alan Christoffels, professor of Bioinformatics, and the director of the South African National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape, welcomed the move as a step in the right direction. But he said the funding models for researchers in LIC and LMIC countries often precluded them from doing the kind of research that would be acceptable in the high end journals like Nature. "For this reason I am not sure if the waiver will be that much of a game changer in LMICS," he said.

“The cost associated with open access publications is exorbitant and is achieving the opposite of what it was intended to,” said Marietjie Venter, professor and Head of the Zoonotic Arbo and Respiratory Virus Programme at the Centre for Viral Zoonoses, in the Department Medical Virology, University of Pretoria. “Publication of research is now determined by the availability of funds not quality of research.

"Springer Nature’s waiver of the OA cost of all their journals for researchers from low-income countries it will certainly encourage more African researchers to send publications to them. They should however also consider reducing the cost for middle income countries. We need a different model to the current Open Access pay for publication system in my opinion”.

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist and former president of Nigeria Academy of Science describes the initiative as a welcome development. “This opportunity will remove one major obstacle to LIC and LMIC countries.”

Julian May, director of the South African Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), director of the Institute for Social Development at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, and who holds the UNESCO Chair in African Food Systems said the development was " extremely exciting” and “long overdue”.

“Researchers are routinely required to pay an APC of Euro 2500 to publish their work in respected, peer-reviewed journals. At that high cost, they are either precluded from publishing, or having to forge collaborations with, for example, European universities which will pay the page fee. While I am a strong proponent of collaboration, these types of arrangements unfortunately engender dependent relationships.

"In South Africa, the state gives universities subsidies for publication, and some pass these on to their researchers to cover page fees. However, this almost always benefits only established researchers. Even then, in the case of UWC, researchers are subsidised to the tune of only R2500 per page, which is obviously a miniscule sum against the Euro 2500.

"The status quo should never have been allowed to develop in the first place, and this news will go a long way to correcting what is an injustice. I would certainly encourage researchers across the spectrum in low- and middle-income countries to submit their work."

Magdalena Skipper, the editor in chief of Nature, said “at the very core of our mission at Nature is our desire to publish the most significant advances in any branch of research. Open Access makes research available to the widest possible audience fostering open science and collaboration. I am excited that with this move we are taking another step towards making research publishing more equitable and scientific knowledge more accessible globally”.

Publishing in peer reviewed journals remains a major yardstick for academic progress, with researchers from the over 70 World Bank designated LICs and LMICs faced with the challenge of little or no local funding to make their research accessible to all.

Researchers are not charged to publish in Nature and the Nature research journals because these are supported by their readers through sales and subscriptions. However, the high APC skews access towards publications from the Global North. It is this charge – now scrapped – which has been a significant cost to LIC and LIMC researchers, sometimes reducing the funds they have available to carry out their work.

A key part of the initiative is that authors will not need to ask to benefit from the support. Corresponding authors from qualifying countries whose primary research papers are accepted in principle (AIP) for publication in these titles will be informed as part of the publishing process that their paper will be published gold OA, with the APC covered by Springer Nature. Authors can opt out if they do not wish their papers to be published OA.