Plan S Essentials

You may have heard about Plan S from your funders or publishers. Plan S refers to the new open access policy being introduced by a coalition of funders, which currently includes the Wellcome Trust, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI, formerly Research Councils UK), European Research Council (ERC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

The new policy aims to further the movement towards open access to research publications, which has not moved as fast as funders and open research suppporters have hoped. It replaces previous funder open access policies when it comes into force on 1 January 2021. More background and information on the policy can be found in blogpost here.

There will be two main ways to publish research after this date:


Publish in a fully open access journal

(i.e. a journal that only publishes open access articles,
with the Creative Commons CC BY open access license – this is normally the default license)




Publish in a subscription (“hybrid”) journal without choosing a paid-for open access option

(but only where the journal allows the author to both retain copyright and deposit the article in Europe PMC & LSHTM Research Online with no delay (i.e. no “embargo period”) under the CC BY open access license).


From 1 January 2021, open access funds can no longer be used to cover open access fees charged by hybrid journals (i.e. subscription supported journals with the option of paid-for open access).

A list of the most-published-in journals, and whether or not they are currently acceptable under the upcoming policy, is provided here. However, it is expected that many journals will change their publishing models over the next year.

Wellcome Trust has confirmed the policy applies to all articles submitted from 1 January 2021. Other funders have yet to confirm, and may only apply the policy to publications emerging from grants awarded after this date. This blogpost will be updated as information is confirmed, including information on the continuation of UKRI & Wellcome Trust open access grants held by the Library & Archives Service. It is likely that funders will monitor compliance with the policy.

For most funders it will be expected that the accepted manuscript be deposited in Europe PMC and LSHTM Research Online to be made available no later than the date of publication (the REF open access policy already requires deposit within 3 months of acceptance for publication). If you pay for open access the publisher will normally do this for you.

There is a loophole that permits paying for open access in a hybrid/subscription journal but you can only do this if you find the funds from elsewhere (e.g. collaborating authors or departmental/faculty funds if any are available). A second loophole permits hybrid open access publishing when a university signs up to a particular kind of combined subscription/open access deal with a publisher (a “transformative agreement”), but there are very few of these deals offered in the UK by publishers and they are prohibitively expensive. Publishers may suggest you can publish under these agreements, but please note that the Library & Archives Service cannot offer this option and that peers at most other universities in the UK will be placed in a similar situation.

It is worth being aware that some publishers are launching “mirror” journals, which are open access versions of subscription journals often distinguished by an “X” after the title, e.g. Vaccine X, Nutrition X – please note, these are not permitted under Plan S.

Most major funders, the REF panels and many international institutions have signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) which disregards using where an article is published as an indicator of quality (e.g. the journal impact factor). This means that individual researchers should not be disadvantaged by their choice of journal in the future.


plan s infographic

Fig 1. Two options for open access compliance under Plan S


How will open access be paid for?

We are expecting the current funding schemes to be maintained in some form, e.g. COAF (Wellcome Trust) and UKRI block grants. However, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK may drop out of the COAF scheme as they have not yet confirmed if they are joining up to Plan S (though they will continue to have open access policies). Therefore, unless anything significant changes, we expect open access funds to be applied for as usual via the Library & Archives Service for Wellcome and RCUK-funded authors.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations and others: again, we expect current arrangements to be maintained. BMGF authors currently email the Foundation directly, while other funders have normally required open access fees to be budgeted for in grant proposals.

By 2021, it is hoped there will be plenty of subscription journals that offer Plan S-compliant options for depositing manuscripts into Research Online and Europe PMC. It is not expected that you should only publish in fully open access journals.

There are an increasing range of free-to-publish journals, include Wellcome Open Research, Gates Open Research, and various low-cost or free-open access journals listed on


How will I know the journal I choose is okay?

A journal’s open access and/or copyright policies is normally stated in the author guidance section of its webpage, as well as on the databases SHERPA/ROMEO and SHERPA/FACT (but please note at this time the databases list current policies, rather than Plan S policies.)

The vast majority of fully open access journals offer the Creative Commons CC BY license (i.e. a kind of copyright license which guarantees free access and permits free re-use of articles), so these should be fine as a general rule.

Most subscription/hybrid journals do allow authors to deposit their accepted manuscript (i.e. the final draft version) in a repository already. However, most journals do not currently comply with the embargo period or copyright requirements of Plan S; many offer 12 month embargoes and publishers ask authors to sign over copyright.

Below are the 25 most published in journals by LSHTM authors from 2014-2019, showing their current compliance status with Plan S. We expect many journals to adapt their policies to Plan S by 1 Jan 2021 – either by becoming fully open access or by introducing complaint free routes for open access. If you are concerned about the compliance of a particular journal, you may wish to contact the journal editors to encourage them to comply with the Plan S policies, particularly the rule on having no embargo period for depositing the manuscript into an open access repository.

articles published by lshtm authors 2014-2019

Fig 2. Journals’ compliance with Plan S as of August 2019


What do you need to do?

Current Wellcome Trust, ERC, UKRI and Gates Foundation policies continue until the end of 2020. You should follow the Plan S policy for articles submitted after 1 January 2021 (though see above: some funders may apply the policy only to grants awarded after this date). It’s advisory to amend any publication plans to adapt to this policy.


What will the Library & Archives Service do?

We will continue to provide updates from funders and publishers on this blog and ServiceDesk page. It’s expected that many publishers will change their open access options to adapt to Plan S, and other funders may sign up (e.g. British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK have not yet signed). Major updates will be fed through department newsletters. We will also provide clear and simple guidance on complying with the policy, but please let us know if you have any questions via ServiceDesk or at


Not funded by a Coalition S partner?

This policy will not apply to you. However, you should continue to follow your own funder’s open access policy and the REF policy (deposit your article through Elements within 3 months of acceptance for publication).

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