Why China is critical to the growth of open access

Research Publishing
By: Chongfang Wang and Nick Campbell, Fri Apr 28 2023
13: Maßnahmen zum Klimaschutz

Author: Chongfang Wang and Nick Campbell

Recent data shows that China is the world's leading producer of research articles (553, 233 in 2020) and is second only to the US in terms of spending on research. The quality of its research also continues to rise : Beijing and Shanghai now rank 1 and 3 respectively in the recent Nature Index analysis of high quality research from the world's urban science powerhouses. To add to that, China has seen a sharp uptake in open access output with more than 30% of China’s articles now being made available OA. How quickly the country now moves to a full OA environment is a key driver and vital step change in terms of moving forwards the wider global transition to open science. 

In light of China’s importance to the global transition to OA, Springer Nature conducted a survey of its Chinese authors, as part of its wider APAC survey, to explore evolving attitudes in the research community. Over 2,200 researchers were surveyed, over a third from China, with the following key findings around perception, engagement and the regional impact of OA in China emerging.

Over half of all Chinese authors now view OA positively, contributing to a growth rate of 25% in OA publications

Between 2017 and 2020 the country saw a substantial growth rate in OA publication, with more authors choosing to publish OA via fully OA journals (≈ 152,000 articles) or via gold OA in hybrid journals (≈ 17,000 articles).

This growth trend seen in the author survey is entirely consistent with the levels of awareness of OA publishing among the Chinese researchers surveyed: only 11% were unfamiliar with gold OA compared to much higher figures in Japan (32%) and South Korea (26%). Not only are Chinese researchers more aware of publishing OA, they are also changing their attitude towards it with 50% of respondents in China stating that their attitude towards gold OA had become more positive over the last two years.

Over half of those surveyed (60%) believe that researchers should be publishing OA, as long as the journal is suitable for the researcher’s work, with the top motivators being that: 

  • Authors believe that their research will be read more widely (64%);
  • It would generate higher citations if published OA (56%);
  • Would enable the paper to be published faster (50%).

Yet there were also substantial gaps in researchers’ knowledge around how APCs are funded (49%) - more specifically:

  • 19% were unsure whether APCs were supported by their funder;
  • 20% were unsure whether APCs were supported by their institution;
  • 14% didn’t know of any advice about publishing provided by their institution.

Other highly cited reasons why, despite their willingness, they were not publishing OA, include

  • the perception that there was no requirement or encouragement from either funder (58%) or institution (60%) to publish OA;
  • the lack of mandates from funders or institutions (35%); 
  • concerns surrounding perceptions about the quality of OA publications (29%); 
  • and that it did not occur to the researcher (29%). 

What’s next? 

Many positive steps are already being taken in China that are encouraging movement towards full OA and broader promotion of Open Science. For example, the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) established the Open Science Promotion Consortium, under which they  formed an Open Access task force in 2022. This task force has been, and will continue to be, instrumental in helping navigate the path for Chinese researchers’ towards Open Access. CAST’s plans include the launch of a pilot later this year to flip a shortlist of local journals to Open Access. In addition, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) 2022 strategic plan to further develop its preprint platform ChinaXiv can be seen as a really positive step forward for open science in the region. Effective management of these changes will only enhance China’s status as a research powerhouse and will play a pivotal role in the global flip to OA.

As we have seen in other parts of the world, the key next step is improving the gap between funders, institutions and researchers. What we are seeing from surveys such as our recent APAC one,  is that there is a lack of expert support in this area. Only 11% of those surveyed reported receiving advice on OA publishing from their institution and again only 11% reported receiving advice on OA licences: a worryingly low proportion in light of over a third of those surveyed being unsure about the support for funding. Consequently we believe that there are several key areas where publishers can be constructive partners to help address these challenges and translate the positive trend in researcher perceptions of OA into concrete steps towards open science.

Important components of managing the next steps include:  addressing misconceptions; educating on the benefits of OA,  and using mandates and institutional guidance to support researcher choices around open science. China can do this and indeed is carefully planning its next steps in supporting the transition to open science. At Springer Nature we are committed to the role we can play in helping to enable this. Focusing on awareness and education around OA publishing options is key, providing local language support is also helpful to further aid the education of researchers, and using local channels will help to increase awareness around OA even further. 

Working with our regional teams, we have already developed a series of WeChat posts in Mandarin for 10 OA FAQs, and the Springer Nature webpage for authors on open research is also available in Mandarin, which is being expanded to include more content in 2023. Springer Nature provides a wide range of OA options to serve Chinese researchers, has expanded OA journal and OA book publications in China, with a view to the long term sustainable future for such partnerships. 

We have long been advocates for the transition to OA at Springer Nature, and the increase in OA and the changing perceptions of OA in China are welcome news for both the dissemination of knowledge and speed of future knowledge discovery. We will continue to explore new ways to support researchers on the path to OA, both in China and around the world.

13: Maßnahmen zum Klimaschutz

Author: Chongfang Wang and Nick Campbell

Chongfang Wang is Head of Open Science Advocacy and Policy, Greater China

Chongfang has over 10 years publishing experience with a deep understanding of he drivers in STM publishing and the evolvement of China OA and Open Science.

Chongfang joined Springer Nature in 2022  from KeAi (a joint venture of Elsevier and CSPM, the publishing arm of CAS), where she was the Publishing Director, overseeing strategic development of the whole KeAi OA portfolio, and leading the publisher team to optimize journal launching and running. Prior to KeAi, she worked for Wiley, Elsevier and MDPI, holding various roles, mainly in charge of journal partnership, content acquisition, business development, OA business acceleration, Open Science advocacy. Chongfang also holds a Master degree in Environmental Sciences from Beijing Normal University.   

Nick Campbell is Vice President Academic Affairs

Nick joined what was then Nature Publishing Group in 2001 and has been an editor on Nature Reviews Genetics, Executive Editor of Nature, and Director of Nature Research in China. As the Managing Editor of Nature, Nick led a major digital and print relaunch. Prior to his current role, Nick was most recently Executive Editor and Executive Vice President for Global Institutional Partnerships at Nature Research. Nick’s first degree, PhD and postdoctoral research were in genetics. He also has a Graduate Certificate in journalism from the University of Queensland.

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