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Open Access is Crucial for Self-Reliance in Science


A recent editorial in Nature praised India’s rise as a scientific powerhouse, mirroring its growing economic influence. India’s science ecosystem is on a remarkable path, now ranking third globally in research output and eleventh in quality, according to the Nature Index. However, achieving significant scientific discoveries and innovation depends on robust infrastructure and resources, which remain inadequate in India’s research landscape.



  • Education
  • Government Policies & Interventions

GS3- Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology

Mains Question:

With the evolving landscape of academic publishing, investing in an all-encompassing subscription model is not prudent. Discuss. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

India’s Research Landscape:

  • From 2014 to 2021, the number of universities in India increased from 760 to 1,113, yet many lack essential resources such as access to advanced instruments, sophisticated labs, and necessary research literature.
  • To address this gap, the pioneering I-STEM initiative has been launched to catalogue all publicly funded research facilities nationwide and make them accessible to researchers based on need, aiming to democratize advanced research infrastructure.
  • Additionally, the ‘One Nation, One Subscription (ONOS)‘ initiative proposes a centralized subscription model for scientific journals, making them universally accessible to all publicly funded institutions.
  • Access to these commercial journals is costly, with institutions in India spending an estimated ₹1,500 crore annually on journal and database subscriptions. However, this expenditure primarily benefits only the top institutions.
  • The government is currently negotiating with the five major commercial publishers who dominate the market to implement ONOS.

Is ONOS the Optimal Solution?

  • Is the ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ (ONOS) model the best solution for accessing scientific literature? When ONOS was first conceptualized around 2019, many scholarly articles were behind paywalls.
  • However, a significant shift has occurred, with a larger portion of articles now available via Open Access (OA), meaning they are freely accessible online.
  • An analysis of publications indexed in the Web of Science indicates that the global share of OA publications rose from 38% in 2018 to 50% in 2022. This trend questions the necessity and efficiency of paying for content that is increasingly available for free.
  • There is currently strong advocacy for OA by the U.S. and the European Union. In 2023, the U.S. released an updated OA policy requiring immediate open access for all publicly funded research articles by 2025.
  • Given this trend, it’s reasonable to argue that we should be paying less for access to scientific literature.
  • The academic publishing market is dominated by a few powerful publishers in the global north, which allows them to set stringent terms, making any negotiation on ONOS challenging.
  • The established reputation and authority of these publishers also hinder discussions about alternatives.
  • In other areas of government procurement, the use of public funds is strictly regulated to ensure maximum cost efficiency and benefit.
  • Why should the procurement of academic journals be any different? If a significant portion of research is already freely accessible, the rationale for a unified, costly subscription becomes less compelling.
  • Additionally, ONOS would not make Indian research globally accessible; rather, it would primarily provide Indian researchers access to journals owned by major publishing oligarchs.
  • Moreover, subscribing to journals does not guarantee continued access. Most academic journals are now only available digitally, and while articles have digital object identifiers (DOIs), these do not ensure long-term preservation.
  • A recent study found that “approximately 28% of academic journal articles with DOIs appear entirely unpreserved,” suggesting that millions of research papers are at risk of disappearing from the internet.
  • For instance, over 17,000 research papers from a chemistry journal distributed by Elsevier globally, except in Japan, vanished when the journal was discontinued in December 2023.

Green Open Access:

  • Given that commercial publishers have not ensured the long-term availability of the content they profit from, it makes sense that every article authored by Indian researchers and funded by taxpayer money should be archived in publicly funded open access (OA) repositories.
  • This practice is known as Green Open Access, allowing authors to deposit a version of their work in a university repository, making it freely accessible worldwide.
  • Although Indian funding agencies have long mandated green OA, it has not been enforced effectively. Recent issues should prompt a stronger push for green OA.
  • Major publishers such as Elsevier (Netherlands), Thomson Reuters (Canada), Taylor Francis (U.K.), Springer Nature (Germany), and Wiley and SAGE (U.S.) are headquartered in the global north and are highly profitable enterprises.
  • Much of their profit comes from the unpaid labor of researchers who perform peer reviews and editorial work.


For India to become atmanirbhar (self-reliant), it needs to improve its own journal system, ensuring no payment burden on authors or readers. With its strong capabilities in digital technology, India should also lead the global south by creating and sharing digital public infrastructure for low-cost, high-quality scientific publishing.

June 2024