The Belgian « Open Access » decree is not, contrary to what some people think, a novelty in itself.
Indeed, all the universities of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation now have their own digital archive and have made it mandatory to submit manuscripts written and published by their researchers, based on the model established in 2007 at the University of Liège. So why a decree?
For two reasons, essentially:
1) Because not all institutions apply the mandate with the same strength, and the result is therefore very variable, particularly because of the intimidation that some publishers place on researchers and on institutions and because of the level of conviction of the academic authorities. However, the W-B Federation wishes legitimately to own a complete inventory of the results of the works it subsidizes.
2) In addition, as a matter of principle, the Federation wishes that all these results – to the extent that authors and sponsors consider that they can be disclosed (this is the case for all publications, by definition) – are accessible without barriers to everyone, not just to those who can afford it.
The current lectronic archives in FWB:
– DIAL at UCLouvain,
– DIAL at USL,
– Di-Fusion at ULB,
– Di-UMONS at UMons,
– PURE at UNamur,
– and the pioneer, ORBi at ULiège.
The main public research funder FRS-FNRS also imposes the filing in an institutional electronic archive of the publications resulting from the researches it finances.
Hence, contrary to what the publishers’ lobby is claiming, the Decree adds no additional constraint to what already exists in every university of the W-B Federation. However, it will prove itself extremely useful to raise the compulsory character one level upwards and to give it the same efficiency everywhere within the Federation. Immediate and greatly increased visibility is a major asset for a researcher because his/her credibility and aura will benefit greatly, but the principle of open access only makes sense if all institutions play the game as well. The Federation as such and its voluntarism through a decree can be exemplary worldwide and can widen its international reputation in this regard.
The enthusiasm of researchers for the principle of Open Access and for the support offered by the Decree is clear: it has materialized in an Open Letter to Parliamentarians gathering already >1700 signatures and to which it is still possible (and desirable) to join.