Horizon 2020 – your complete guide to open access

Open access in scientific research has become one of the most important topics in the last decade, it is non-disputable. The European Commission (EC) is aware of this and has initiated “the biggest EU research and innovation program ever” called Horizon 2020 (H2020). This article covers what the program involves, how it addresses open access and how it affects research.

Horizon 2020 – your complete guide to open access

  • What is H2020?
  • Why have open access?
  • Open access in Horizon 2020
  • Publication misconceptions
  • Mandate on open access to publications
  • Opting out

What is H2020?

H2020 is a program spanning over 7 years, from 2014-2020, with close to €80 billion in funding. Its main aim is to bring more momentum to research and innovation throughout Europe. Leaders across Europe and members of the European Parliament have recognized that investing in research is an imperative investment for the future. It is the way forward for sustainable growth.

The results of this investment are the removing of barriers to innovation, cooperation between public and private sectors, and tackling societal challenges. Horizon 2020 is further devoted to being accessible to all people. This means being structured simply and setting the focus to what is important: the research. In turn, projects can begin and achieve results faster, and a single space shall be created for knowledge, research, and innovation.

European Commission H2020 program logo


What does open access mean?

The European Commission defines open access as “the practice of providing online access to scientific information that is free of charge to the user and that is reusable”. They further have two categories of scientific information; peer-reviewed scientific publications and scientific research data. The former refers to research articles that have been published in academic journals. The latter is the underlying data of the publications, being the raw data itself. We will look into the routes to open access for these types of scientific information further in the post.


Why have open access?

The concept of the H2020 program is to create a single space to foster growth and innovation. At the core of this, lies collaboration and that means sharing data. Specifically listed (by the EC) are the following benefits to having open access data.

First, you can have access to and build upon previous research results, improving their overall quality. It also encourages collaboration, while avoiding duplication and the wasting of resources. It speeds up innovation, and faster progress in the market translates to faster growth. Lastly, everyone in the society is involved, which brings about more transparency of the scientific process. Another reason behind open access is related to the program itself, which concerns funding from the EU. This funding comes at least partially from the public. Thus, there is an argument that they have therefore already paid for it. People should not need to pay each time they wish to access it.


Open access in Horizon 2020

Under H2020, if you are receiving funding, you must ensure that you comply with the open access requirements. There are different paths to follow with regards to publications and research data, as well as different levels of open access.

Open access decision tree

Infographic: Open access decision tree


Open access to research data

The degree of openness of your research data will depend on what is agreed upon in the grant. Research data can be defined as the information, in the form of numbers or facts, collected to be used for reasoning, discussion, or calculation. For research, this refers to statistics, experimental results, measurements, observations, and so on. For open access, this data should be in digital form and available for others to access, mine, exploit, reproduce, and share; free of charge.


Open access to publications

To start, the open access to publications has two routes under the H2020 program. The first route is self-archiving or ‘green’ open access. This involves the author archiving the published article/final peer-reviewed manuscript in an online repository before, during or after publication. The second route is open access publishing or also known as ‘gold’ open access. This refers to the article being published immediately as open access. The publication costs are usually covered by the research institute and moved away from the readers.


Publication misconceptions

It should be noted that open access requirements do not imply an obligation to publish results. Publishing must go ahead if that is the chosen method of dissemination. Otherwise, it is up to the researchers to chose whether to publish or not, based on other goals (patenting etc.).


Mandate on open access to publications

If you are receiving funding under Horizon 2020, you must ensure open access to all peer-reviewed scientific publications. This means making publications available online, downloadable, and printable. The mandate has two specific steps towards open access, depositing publications in repositories and providing open access to them.

Step one – the author must deposit a machine-readable electronic copy of a peer-reviewed manuscript or published article in a scientific publication repository. This should be as soon as possible and at the latest, upon publication. This version should be as identical as possible to the public version and an appropriate repository can be chosen via OpenAIRE (Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe).

Step two – there are two ways to provide open access to publications, which we have covered earlier. They are the ‘green’ or ‘gold’ open access. Going into more detail, green open access allows you to choose the repository you prefer. The manuscript must, however, be published within 6 months.  Gold open access additionally allows publishing in open access journals or hybrid journals, which sell subscriptions and have the option to publish individual articles openly. The costs incurred in publishing to journals are not covered by H2020 grants but may be reimbursed through OpenAIRE if you were funded by an FP7 grant.


Opting out

Generally, if you are receiving funding under the H2020 program, open access is the default for any data you generated. However, it is not always possible or sensible to have open access to all data. Therefore, beneficiaries are able to opt out of opening their access. Reasons might be related to security issues, protecting personal data or any legitimate reason that can be communicated to the commission. Ultimately, the aim of the H2020 program is to have data access “as open as possible, as closed as necessary”. So, if you are unable to allow total open access, it is not an issue, so long as efforts are made to better open access.


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