‘Everyone should be able to publish and read open access everywhere in the world’

'It’s in my interest and those of my readers to ensure that my articles can be found.’

02/13/2019 | 3:14 PM

‘Ever since I published my first article in 1990, I have made almost all of my work available for free on my website’, says Ruard Ganzevoort, Professor of Practical Theology and Dean of the Faculty of Religion and Theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He believes we should work towards a system of universal open access (OA). To this end, he encourages his fellow researchers to push the boundaries of the law, for example by joining the Taverne project. PasfotoRuardGanzevoort300x300

 Open Access is also a point of principle for me
‘My only interest is that people read what I write. Open Access is also a point of principle for me. I object to my articles being available only to researchers who have enough money or have the privilege of working in an environment with a library that offers every available resource.

Non-exclusive rights
‘I consider journals to be a kind of intermediary product. The only thing that really interests me is that all my work ends up on my website and people can find it by doing a subject search. Additionally, I use Research Gate and repositories such as the VU Research Portal. I’m often sent copyright agreements containing the phrase “you grant the exclusive rights to this journal”. I always change it to “the non-exclusive rights” and write my initials in the margin. No publisher has ever said a thing.’

Response from all over the world
‘I like it when I receive emails from people in Bangladesh or Gambia or wherever who have come across my work by searching for a particular topic. They never would have found my articles if they had been published exclusively in paid journals. However, I will never put the content of complete books on my website while they are still in print, as to do so would be taking money out of the publisher’s pocket. I believe we should be working towards a system of universal open access. My efforts are no more than a compromise.’

Sticking out your neck
What has been the reaction of fellow researchers? ‘Some of them, particularly younger colleagues, are amazed that I take the matter so lightly. I often hear that it’s easier for me because I’m already an established researcher and can therefore afford to take greater liberties. It’s true that I’ve withdrawn articles once or twice because I didn’t want to sign up to an overly restrictive contract. That is easier for me to do than for my younger colleagues who do not yet hold tenure. It’s the very reason why a person in my position should be sticking out his neck. That said, I’ve been doing this since before I was tenured at the university.’

Who will pay for open access publishing?
‘The problem we have now is that we are in a transition phase between an old and a new system. Much is still to be determined. This has led to several questions, for example: who will pay the publishing costs and how can we safeguard quality? Just as I believe that people everywhere in the world should be able to read scientific publications at present, I believe that they should be able to publish in the future – whether they are located in the Netherlands or Ghana. Another issue is whether we should be spending any more time reviewing articles for free for journals that strive for a profit. Maybe we should invoice them instead?’

Graduated price scale for OA publishing
‘Perhaps we should move towards a model that cuts out the publishers and sees universities and sector organisations publish their own journals. Such a model would also help solve the quality assurance problem. We could then adopt a graduated price scale, depending on the author’s country of origin. That would not only make academia fairer, but also more diverse and therefore better.’

Collectively pushing the boundaries
How can researchers help speed up this transition? ‘My advice would be to push the boundaries of what is permissible. After all, it’s in your own interest to find a good showcase for your work. You want your work to be read. To my mind, the nationwide Taverne project represents a significant step in the wider process. If we start pushing the boundaries collectively, publishers will start to feel the pinch.’

Measuring impact in terms of content
‘At the same time, we should look at how we currently assess research. Within our faculty, we are looking at ways to improve this, for example by providing an insight into team performance, narratives and societal impact. Our aim is to put a greater emphasis on measuring impact in terms of content. These days, the main criterion for researchers is the number of publications in high-impact journals, but this isn’t a reliable indicator of the impact of their content. As for my own output, the work that had the greatest impact was a lecture that I never published. We should dare to place more of a premium on content when assessing researchers.’


The VSNU’s Taverne project
Professor Ruard Ganzevoort is one of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researchers who take part in the nationwide Taverne project set up by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). This helps researchers make use of their right to open access publishing via the green route, pursuant to 2015’s Taverne Amendment. The amendment gives researchers the right to publish short scientific works paid for in whole or in part from Dutch public funds open access following a reasonable period of time, irrespective of the conditions imposed by publishers. One way of doing so is by uploading the article to the VU Research Portal.

Are you interested in taking part in the Taverne project?
If you decide to take part, the University Library will do the following with respect to all short scientific works (articles, chapters in books, trade publications) published by you after 1 January 2018:

•         Include them in the version of the VU Research Portal for publishers
•         Make them available for free automatically six months after their initial publication date.
The only thing you need to do is authorise the University Library and send us a list of your recent and imminent publications.