India's open access future

Manju Naika* and Sandeep Kumar Pathak** analyse how the policy around access to scholarly knowledge is shaping up in the country.

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.125 Published online 19 August 2020

Students at the IIT Bombay library.


India’s new science policy – Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020 – expected to be out before the year end, wants to make scholarly knowledge openly accessible to all.

An expert group consulting the government on the new policy has recommended a ‘one nation one subscription’ formula for India. This means the government will aim to negotiate with leading publishers of science journals a country-wide open access policy. Under the scheme, a single, centrally-negotiated payment will be made to publishers of scholarly journals in return for access to all published literature by every individual living in India. This new proposal is expected to replace the current norm where individual academic institutes or consortia of institutes subscribe to journals separately, thereby replicating costs, according to sources in the government.

The new approach will be similar to the German open access policy with the only difference that in India access to scholarly knowledge will not be restricted to the research or academic community. If this policy comes into force, anyone in India will be able to access scholarly literature without having to pay for it.

The other significant recommendation, which is yet to be ratified by all members of the expert group drafting the policy, is that authors of scholarly literature will be permitted to pay article processing charges (APCs) through grants available to them in order to get their articles published in reputed journals. The experts have proposed further negotiations to remove the burden of APCs on the researchers, either via a system of invoicing to the government or through a ‘subscription rights’ mechanism via a centralised portal.

The policy will recommend a central payment system for APCs for all reputed APC-based journals. Predatory publishers will be strictly excluded from this system.

In the run up to these recommendations, during a public consultation in June 2020, India’s Principal Scientific Adviser Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan proposed this open access (OA) model for the country. “Publicly-funded research must be accessible to the public. Users should not have to pay again and again to access scholarly communication – that fortress of access has to crumble,” he said to a question on the next steps that India wants to take in decentralising access to scientific communication.

“Those charges (APCs) are disproportionately high for a country like India where the exchange rates are quite high. This makes it difficult for scientists to publish in quality journals,” he said.

The government is also looking at broadening an existing OA policy of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) that mandates all publicly-funded research to be made freely available.

The new open access policy of India will not just open up scholarly knowledge but also access to research data and research infrastructure, according to VijayRaghavan.

Open access trends

It is essential to understand the current trends of OA in India to design a sustainable OA policy that can provide researchers access to high-quality global peer-reviewed research publications and an opportunity for them to contribute to such publications. The global ranking of Indian universities is tied to research productivity, which can be increased by encouraging and incentivising researchers to publish in reputed publications.

Open access to scholarly communication in India has evolved slowly since the early 2000s with the government trying to accelerate the growth of OA resources. The central government allocates only a per cent of the country's GDP to research but has roughly 900 universities and other research institutions of higher education, and thus considers OA as an essential need.

There are about 0.34 million researchers (full-time or equivalent) in India. Several studies show that OA publications are cited more frequently1, 2 than non-OA publications and thus confer greater visibility on their authors. While advances in information technology have led to an exponential growth of scientific literature, the cost of electronic journals has increased rapidly. Only a few institutions in the world have access to all the journals they want. Many institutes are deprived of such unfettered access to scientific knowledge because they cannot afford it. Most Indian universities do not have the budget to appoint a full-time and qualified university librarian to manage their libraries. As such, giving all university researchers access to scholarly journals of their choice is a distant dream. 

However, after the launch of Plan S by the coalition of German funding agencies in 2018, the OA movement has begun to attract worldwide interest, as also in India.

It is, therefore, worth analysing the share of OA papers in published research output from India to identify factors responsible for the growth of OA resources in India vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

Repositories of knowledge

Institutional repositories collect and preserve in electronic format the scholarly output of institutions and make them freely accessible and discoverable by the public. The repository stores research articles, review papers, theses and dissertations, reports, preprints, and post-prints. As of April 2020, the UK-based Directory of Open Access Repositories (Open DOAR) listed 92 such repositories in India. Besides institute-level repositories, India has set up several national ones to promote OA. They include Shodhganga, India's national repository of doctoral theses (housing full texts of 269 733 Ph.D theses submitted to 433 universities as of April 2020) managed by the Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET). Another such is the National Virtual Library of India (NVLI), a comprehensive collection of digital resources giving information about India. The collections are OA and multilingual, in the form of documents, books, images, audio and video files, and other forms.

The National Digital Library of India (NDLI) is an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now Ministry of Education) as part of the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). The library's pilot project is to develop a framework for a virtual repository of learning resources with a single-window search facility. As of April 2020, the NDLI had 47, 898, 772 digital items.

The library's pilot project is to develop a framework for a virtual repository of learning resources with a single-window search facility. As of April 2020, the NDLI had 47 898 772 digital items.

Science-Central is India's centralized hosting service for all 42 institutional repositories of institutions that are part of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) as well as a harvester service for those repositories. A centralized harvester harvests data from all the institutional repositories to support OA to publications from projects funded by the DST or the DBT. Seventeen institutional repositories are hosted on the Science-Central platform, and data are harvested from 42 more. The database currently has 3438 items, of which 69% are full-text records.

Open access journals

Open access journals providing full text of articles to anyone without any charge or restrictions are of three kinds – Green OA (no publishing charges, authors can self-archive the article in an institutional/central repository for free access), Gold OA (articles are freely accessible on the journal's website immediately after publication, usually authors pay the cost of publication), and Hybrid (a mix of green and gold where some articles are free to access and some are behind a paywall).

As of April 2020, 282 Indian journals were listed in the independent online community-curated Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The J-Gate database, launched in 2001 by a private enterprise Informatics India Ltd, features 3552 Green OA and 341 Hybrid OA journals from India. This electronic gateway provides fee-based access to global e-journal literature. Many Indian journals published by a major commercial publisher are in the Hybrid OA category.

Research output

Analysing the Scopus database reveals that between 2015 and 2019, the world's research output in the form of published papers exceeded 15 million (see infographic below), split between global OA publications (25.2%) and non-OA publications (74.8%), the annual average being a little over 3 million. The output grew by 3.2% annually during that time, whereas the rate for India was 7%. 

Although India's contribution to OA publications (4%) was lower than the world average (25%), the annual growth rate of OA publications from India was approximately 12.5%. Between 2015 and 2019, India's share in the world's total output was 5.3%, with more than 0.8 million papers. 

Overview of research output from India and the rest of the world.

Source: Scopus Database 

Going by Scopus data, India is in the fifth position in terms of the total number of publications and 6th in terms of OA publications in the world after the United States, China, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Despite less than 1% GDP allocation for research and lack of APC funding in India, and without any clear mandatory OA policies at the institutional and national level, India seems to be contributing significantly to open access publishing.

Major contributors to OA papers

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs – 23 in number) account for the highest number of OA papers – 11021 or 7% – in the country's total contribution, followed by the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) with 4153 publications, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru with 2718 publications. All of these are public institutes – the first two are groups of institutes and IISc is a single institute.

The top funding agencies publishing OA papers are the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (3155 publications) followed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Kerala (2995 publications) and the University Grants Commission (2518 publications). It is noteworthy that the DST of Kerala, one of the smallest states in India, is a key publisher and may well serve as a role model for other states in the country. Incidentally, Kerala also tops in literacy rates in India. Private companies, private universities or other major public-sector institutions are conspicuous by their absence in this list.

Policy making bodies and funding agencies should take note of the contributions of these institutions and provide incentives to others to increase their OA contributions. 

[The authors are *Chief Library Officer, IIT Bombay (manjunaik@iitb.ac.in) and **Librarian, IISER Bhopal (skpathak@iiserb.ac.in).]


1. Piwowar, H. et al. The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. Peer J. (2018) doi: 10.7717/peerj.4375

2. Antelman, K. Do open-access articles have a greater research impact? Coll. Res. Libr. (2004) doi: 10.5860/crl.65.5.372