State Secretary Sander Dekker intends to push through free access to scientific articles – any which way. It’s only a matter of time until the world follows the Netherlands’ lead, he says: “We’re at the forefront of developments in this field.”

The State Secretary intends to change tack completely: in ten years or so, everyone should enjoy unrestricted access to all Dutch scientific publications. Because why should doctors, entrepreneurs or teachers pay to read scientific articles, if the scientists were actually able to conduct their research thanks to public funding?

Expensive subscriptions

“Within university walls, it is entirely natural for people to have access to any scientific article they are interested in reading,” explains Dekker. “Still, the libraries need to take out expensive subscriptions to this end. And as soon as you start working elsewhere, this access is denied again. Quite strange.”

In the State Secretary’s view it’s a matter of principle: “With words like knowledge and innovative society forever on our lips, it would actually help if this knowledge was indeed accessible to all. Likewise, as a scientist you need to be able to look beyond the boundaries of your discipline and freely engage in the exchange of knowledge.” That is why Dekker is an advocate of ‘open access’: unrestricted access to peer-reviewed knowledge.

Related: Universities considering Elsevier boycott over issue of open access

Gold or green variant

There are two kinds of open access: the so-called ‘gold’ and ‘green’ variants. In the gold variant, you can access journal articles with a click of the button, free of charge – the information is not cordoned off by some payment scheme. In the case of ‘green’ open access, users are still required to pay to read the contents of a recent journal; but in due time, articles are also archived in the university’s public repository.

Dekker personally prefers the gold version of open access. “The green variant often involves lengthy embargo terms. In many cases, it takes as long as six months, a year or even two years before your published journal article can be included in a public database. I find this situation far from optimum, since it means that you can only access information free of charge that may well be obsolete by the time you read it.”

‘Abolish embargo terms’

Nevertheless, in many countries, there seems to be a favour for the green variant. Dekker recently collaborated with his British colleague on an opinion piece that will be published in the near future. In this article, the State Secretary does not opt on principle for either the gold or green variant, as he has done in the context of Dutch policy. “Regarding the green variant, I’ve always said that to a large extent, I can agree on this approach, provided we abolish the embargo terms. I don’t want a journal to be able to keep an article under lock and key for two years.”

And according to Dekker, research funder NWO holds the same view: “You’re free to choose one of the two options – gold or green open access – but in any case, the publication itself needs to be freely available from the outset. But once this green option starts gaining a foothold, more and more journals will start wondering why people would even bother with their publication if they can read the articles for free elsewhere?” He believes that in due time, publishers will automatically start developing a preference for the gold open access variant.


In Dekker’s view, the wish to wall off scientific knowledge has had its day. “Together with the UK, the Netherlands is at the forefront of this development, and we are working to convince our colleagues. The new European Commissioner has embraced this concept, and most young scientists would also welcome open access. But right now, the main changes need to take place within the publishing establishment. Publishers made a very decent profit in the old model, but now it’s time for them to go down a different path. This won’t happen of its own accord, which is why we need to put political pressure on them. And the scientific community also needs to push through change in this area.”

Wouldn’t it speed up things if other countries were to change tack at same time as the Netherlands? “The Netherlands is a major player in the market for peer-reviewed research,” days Dekker. “The outside world is following our negotiations here with keen interest. I am delighted that the Dutch universities are proving such tough negotiators in this context. But indeed, the more people you are with, the greater your clout as a group.” HOP