Open Medicine, Vol 2, No 4 (2008)

Leaders or followers? It’s time for health faculty to open up
Claire Kendall, Sally Murray
Claire Kendall and Sally Murray are on the editorial team of Open Medicine.
Competing interests: None declared.

Canada is home to many of the world’s leading advocates of open access, and much of their work has been initiated from within the library community. In contrast, Canadian leaders in health care research, education, and clinical care have been disappointingly complacent in the movement to broaden the reach of their knowledge. Why is it that so many who entered their chosen fields with the lofty goal of improving human health have been slow to embrace an important initiative that can support this very goal?

When the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) introduced a policy in 2007 requiring that CIHR-funded research output be made freely available1 — a policy consistent with other major research funders internationally — there was little celebration among those whom the policies affect. Yet open access publishing allows anyone with an Internet connection to read, use, and distribute health research and analysis, ensuring that those who need information can access it. Access is no longer limited to academics with expensive institutional journal subscriptions.

We believe it is time for our academic health care institutions to step up their commitment to the open access movement. October 14, 2008 — the world’s first Open Access Day — seems like a prime opportunity for Canadian health care academics and institutions to become leaders rather than followers.

In affirming their commitment and support for open access publishing and its contribution to better health care, we call on health science faculties to work toward the following objectives:

1. Establish support funds for faculty and student publication in open access journals. Open access journals maintain the same standards of peer review and editing as their non–open-access counterparts but do not generate income by selling their work through individual or institutional subscriptions or pay-per-view options. As such, many open access journals are looking for new models of financial sustainability, including publication charges to cover review, editorial, and production costs. In addition, some traditional publishers are allowing content to be made available online for a separate charge. Although many national-level funders are allowing researchers to include publication charges in their grant applications, institutional support is necessary, certainly in the short term, to support faculty in their ability to publish in open access venues.

In June 2008, the University of Calgary became the first (and, at this time, only) Canadian institution to establish a substantial fund to cover publication charges for authors to make their work publicly available.2

2. Adopt an open access mandate for publications generated from within their universities and provide the necessary tools to enable authors to comply. Faculty members at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Science, Harvard Law School, and the Stanford University School of Education have unanimously embraced strong open access policies mandating that “each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license … provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.”3 This means that faculty must deposit the final versions of their scholarly work into their online repository, at which time the work becomes freely accessible, searchable, and usable, with attribution to the author and university, but cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Athabasca University is the only Canadian University to adopt an open access policy, encouraging (albeit not mandating) its faculty to post copies of their scholarly work in their institutional online repository.4

To achieve the successful implementation of open access policy, we encourage our colleagues not only to adopt strong policies regarding open access publication for their staff, but also to provide the tools they need to ensure that the process is as seamless and efficient as possible. The Stanford University School of Education Policy and Resources website offers an excellent example of how this can be achieved; it provides details on their policy and what academics need to do to comply with it, a publication agreement addendum, links to other university archiving policies, articles describing the citation advantage of open access publishing, a directory of open access journals/mandates, and links to a comprehensive open access wiki 5.

The Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies (ROARMAP) is also an excellent resource, providing copies of current and proposed institutional, departmental and funding agency open access mandates, and their histories.6

3. Champion open access for learners. Tuition costs continue to soar along with the costs of teaching material such as textbooks, CDs, and course notes. Health care educational material is becoming not only prohibitively expensive, but also unnecessarily duplicative. The Internet provides us with an unprecedented ability to share information. Educators can embrace this opportunity by adapting existing programs and course material to build a network of resources.

In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched OpenCourseWare, an initiative to make a repository of educational course material freely available online with the goal of improving education on a global scale. Driven by the efforts of MIT faculty, the initiative currently has materials for over 1800 courses online.7 Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia, is their only Canadian academic institutional partner. In comparison, there are 156 participating institutions in China. The Connexions Project through Rice University also offers free online or print educational materials for a fraction of the cost of traditional publications.8 We encourage faculty to seize the opportunity to be part of an open global education movement.

As we celebrate Open Access Day, we think it is time that those who publish research with applications for human health consider that they have not only the opportunity to decline restrictive copyright provisions that have previously prevented the full dissemination of their work, but also the obligation to do so. Publishers can no longer prevent authors from posting their own research on their institutional websites to maximize the impact of their work on patients and policy. Furthermore, the use of open copyright licenses ( in scholarly publishing allows authors to distribute their own work to their students. It isn’t time to follow the leader: it’s time to be the leader, and for our academics and institutions to bring Canadian health care publishing into the open.

  1. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. CIHR Policy on access to research outputs 2008 (accessed 2008 Sep 30). [Full Text]
  2. University of Calgary. U of C funds Open Access Authors Fund [news release] 2008 (accessed 2008 Sep 30). [Full Text]
  3. Stanford University. Questions and answers on Harvard’s open access motion 2008 (accessed 2008 Oct 7). [Full Text]
  4. Athabasca University. Open access research policy 2007 (accessed 2008 Oct 7). [Full Text]
  5. Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies (accessed 2008 Oct 7). [Full Text]
  6. Stanford University. Stanford University School of Education’s open access policy 2008 (accessed 2008 Oct 6). [Full Text]
  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT OpenCourseWare (accessed 2008 Oct 6). [Full Text]
  8. Rice University. Connexions 2008 (accessed 2008 Oct 7). [Full Text]

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ISSN 1911-2092