Development of the harmonized open access policy of the three Québec funding agencies (Fonds de recherche du Québec – FRQ)

Louise Poissant, Research Director, Society and Culture, FRQ (Fonds de recherche du Québec, Société et Culture (FRQSC))

Louise Poissant described the FRQ’s draft harmonized open access policy, which was still in the process of being written. She noted that the FRQ was in the consultation stage, and encouraged seminar participants to share their ideas and questions.

While the Health section of the FRQ (Fonds de recherche du Québec, Santé (FRQS)) had implemented a open access policy on January 1, 2009, the FRQ had the intention to develop a harmonized policy in order to also include the Society and Culture (FRQSC) and Nature and Technology (Fonds de recherche du Québec, Nature et Technologie (FRQNT)) sections. The goals of the policy are research promotion, support for researchers with respect to research dissemination, improved access to research findings funded by the FRQ and opening up of dissemination to audiences other than researchers alone.  


1. Description of the future policy

A number of broad principles underpin the FRQ’s policy on open access dissemination of research findings:

- academic freedom with respect to teaching and publishing: the FRQ does not want constraints set by scholarly journals or publishers to compromise academic freedom;

- promotion of research and innovation through dissemination, transfer and also commercialization of findings, in accordance with conditions appropriate for each area of research;

- peer review in order to ensure publication excellence and quality;

- promotion of best practices and recognized research standards;

- compliance with ethical standards and protection of personal information, which involves anonymity, transparency and fairness regarding groups affected by research findings;

- harmonization with Canadian funding agencies and other organizations at the international level. In Canada, the CIHR has had a policy in favour of open access since 2008, while the SSHRC and NSERC adopted such policy in 2015.

Open access dissemination can be achieved in various ways: through the website of a journal publisher or of a congress publishing the proceedings of a conference, through discipline-based repositories, through institutional repositories (belonging to universities, research centres, hospitals) or through the Érudit platform, which brings together a number of scholarly journals and other publications.

Those awarded funding will be required to make research findings they have published in articles in peer-reviewed journals public and freely accessible within 12 months of their publication. For this, the preferred means are to archive the final revised version of the peer-reviewed article in an online institutional or disciplinary repository or to publish it in an open-access journal. The possible cost of publication in an open-access journal (for which there may be a per-article fee) can be provided for in the funding received by the researcher.


The goal of the present policy is to put into practice the conclusions of the January 2014 report presented by the former Scientific Director of the FRQ, Normand Labrie. According to the report, the purpose of an open access policy is to make the findings of publicly funded research accessible to the greatest possible number of readers and not just to the research community. A number of stakeholders have crucial roles to play in dissemination and mobilization of knowledge: authors, whether they are students or researchers; readers; publishers (journals, publishing houses, associations), which will have to rethink their business plans; and finally new players associated with digital publishing (libraries, institutional repositories, dissemination platforms). All of these stakeholders will have to be mobilized.


2. The policy’s impact on scholarly journals

Policy fostering open access dissemination has various forms of impact on scholarly journals. First, they will have to change their business plans because, on one hand, expenditures will change (publication, digitalization, dissemination, hosting and marketing costs) and, on the other hand, revenue will also change, whether it comes from authors, readers, subscriptions, dissemination platforms, advertising, or private or public funding. Next, it has to be noted that the impact of and stakes involved in open access are different depending on the field. For example, a scientific article in medicine or technology may not be very interesting 12 months after its initial publication, whereas in the human and social sciences, in most cases, readers consult articles that are more than a year old. Such field-dependent differences lead to different requirements for journals and disseminators. To this is added a field-related difference at the level of funding programs for journals: in Québec, since last year, only the FRQSC has still been offering such funding. Another implication of open access dissemination for journals is the promotion of French as a language of research and publication when there is English-language hegemony at the international level. Moreover, from the point of view of funded authors, the policy may lead them to submit articles only to journals that will allow them to publish their articles in open access 12 months after the initial publication. Finally, for a journal, having a time limit of 12 months could result in fewer subscriptions, especially in the social sciences and humanities, where the newness of the publication is less important to the reader.


The FRQSC’s program for funding scholarly journals consists in a biannual competition at the end of which 2-year funding is offered to emerging journals, and 4-year funding is offered to established journals. To be eligible, a journal has to publish more than 50% of its articles in French. Since October 2007, funded journals have to entrust their digital publication and dissemination to Érudit. The FRQSC has been encouraging free access since 2014, and plans to adopt a strict policy in 2016.


3. Avenues for reflection

In order to foster the ongoing reflection on the FRQ’s open access dissemination policy, Poissant proposed the following list of questions:

1. What would be the consequences of an open access policy addressed mainly to authors without taking into account the ecosystem of scholarly publishing? This is relevant because, according to the present formulation, the burden of compliance with the FRQ’s policy would be on authors’ shoulders alone.

2. How could we assist authors in choosing journals to which they should submit their articles in accordance with open access dissemination after 12 months? What could be the consequences of this choice on the very findings of their research, according to the partners involved?

3. What open access policy should be adopted in order to take into account the various business models required to ensure the sustainability of scholarly journals? The objective is to maintain the greatest possible number of scholarly journals active. In order to be eligible for funding, the journal has to publish at least 12 articles a year, but is the funding offered sufficient?

4. What is the policy’s scope regarding publications resulting from networks, groups, clusters and research centres? What impact will it have on the acceptability of publication fees in funding programs?

5. What resources will platforms like Érudit need?

6. What support in terms of expertise, training and financial contributions do we need to provide universities to ensure they have cutting edge institutional repositories?

7. What means should be offered to PhD students who opt to write a thesis in the form of scientific articles?