EDIT: I am referring to short duration (1-2 years) small grants (10k-30k $/euros) usually given to PhD or post-docs. The amount needs to cover material, conferences, publications, etc. Publishers now charge up to 10k for open access, so towards the end of the funding period when most work is being published the grantee might be short of 10k for a publication.

It is becoming increasingly common for research funded with public money to be published as open access with gold (expensive but immediately open access) or green standard ( free self archiving after 6 months). This is part of the grant agreement which is a binding legal contract.

What happens if a researcher publishes not in open access because cannot afford to pay the open access fee? Some publishers are increasing the open access fees and I have discussed with colleagues, particularly junior scientists and postdocs with limited funding, about this dilemma. Careers depend also on publications appearing in certain journals, so choosing a target journal for financial reasons seem to be a great disadvantage for younger scientists.

  • Will there be any legal or other potential consequences such as being banned from applying for grants from the same institution?
  • Will there be any non-written consequences such as being flagged as a noncomplying grantee?**

PS: I'm not looking for advice on how to find money for paying the open access fees, there are already questions covering that topic.

  • 2
    In what country? Mar 5, 2021 at 15:28
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    I guess I don't understand why the publishing fee can't be charged to the grant.
    – Buffy
    Mar 5, 2021 at 15:40
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    Note that some publishers allow delayed open archiving precisely to allow for compliance with funder requirements while maintaining a traditional paid access model for the first N months.
    – jakebeal
    Mar 5, 2021 at 15:41
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    @Buffy, money in US federal grants can have different categories or "colors" and you can't legally use salary money to pay publishing fees. So, you'd need sign off from your Program Officer to move money from one budget category to another to then use grant money to pay publishing fees. Some money can be rebudgeted, and some cannot. This is where a good administrative person in your Sponsored Research Office comes into play to help with such questions between you and your funding agency if you didn't put pub. fees in your original budget.
    – Bill Barth
    Mar 5, 2021 at 17:06
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    IME, most journal publishers have country-specific copyright licence agreements so that authors in any given country can (free of charge) provide just enough openness of access to satisfy the requirements of that country's public funding bodies. Mar 5, 2021 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


I'm most familiar with the US NIH.

They write:

Non-compliance will be addressed administratively, and may delay or prevent awarding of funds.

For the most part, NIH seems focused on awareness and trying to encourage compliance, rather than strict enforcement. It seems many are not fully aware of the guidelines, which are quite new for some researchers who have published a different way for decades.

More generally, big funding agencies like to act through the institutions researchers belong to in encouraging compliance, whether for policies like this or for ethical policies like those for human/animal subjects research.

They can threaten to withhold their funds and even government funding more broadly from entire institutions, not just individuals. While cases of this threat actually being carried out are rare, it may mean that researchers find themselves more directly responsible to their institution rather than the funder. The institution has a large incentive to ensure local compliance and likely has more resources than the funding agency to follow up, as well as a broader range of sanctions.

For your particular situation, I have a hard time imagining a funding agency feeling too bad for your circumstance. If they're funding your work and demanding open access, they're implying that they expect you to use their funds towards those costs in addition to all the others (either directly or through the fungibility of money). "I spent my money on other things and now can't afford to comply with your publishing requirements" doesn't seem like a very good argument, since everyone they fund is in the same boat and since you've accepted their terms by accepting their funding.

  • The institution is also almost always on the hook for clawback provisions, which is another reason that they will usually enforce compliance rather aggressively.
    – user133933
    Mar 5, 2021 at 15:54
  • @Libor Perhaps, though as far as I know funders tend to be punitive in a prospective rather than retrospective way. Even a modest threat to future funding is a scary thing for an institution that relies on it.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 5, 2021 at 16:20
  • I think it's mutually assured destruction. Funders never trigger clawbacks because the institute will always fight it tooth and nail but institutes never want to have to do that.
    – user133933
    Mar 5, 2021 at 16:27

In the UK, it depends on the Funder. The biggest non-governmental funder in the UK is the Wellcome Trust, and they will count non-open access publication against you when applying for grants in the future.

Government funding comes primarily from UKRI. It is against the rules to spend UKRI grant money on open-access publication, but all publications arising from UKRI funded work must be at least green open-access. How is this circle squared? Institutions are given block grants proportional to the average amount of UKRI funds they hold to pay for open-access publication. But it is entirely possible for this money to run out in a year before a particular grant holder has had chance to use it.

Protection against this comes via the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF happens every 5 years and the UKRI assess all scholarly output from an institution in the period covered, ranking papers. Top ranking papers win institutions funding that is not tied any particular project (Quality Related or QR money). This is often a univeresity's biggest income stream after undergraduate tuition. In order for a paper to be considered in the REF it must be publish open-access. Thus, paper that might be awarded 4* might cost a uni $5000 to publish, but would get them $140,000 in funding in return via QR, if it is not open access, it gets them nothing. .

  • 1
    How did you arrive at that estimate of the typical increase in QR income associated with an additional 4* output in REF? It occurs to me that, if that estimate were anywhere near right, then for most people, spending time on high-quality execution of existing research projects would be a more efficient way of bringing money into their university than spending time on writing grant proposals. Mar 5, 2021 at 22:13
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    I have to admit, this is somewhat of a "folkloric" number. I did a little digging and came up with: 1) The amount money awarded varies from field to field - more expensive fields are awarded more. 2) In e.g. Biological Sciences there £40.3M a year is given in QR due to REF outputs. 3) In submissions form 2373 FTE equivalent staff, 30% of submissions were rated 4* and 49% 3*. 4) 4* papers receive 4 times as much as 3* ones. Its clearly a lot of money, but in e.g. biology, a 4* paper might require £500k in research costs. So you still need the grant to get the paper. Mar 6, 2021 at 17:03
  • Thanks, @IanSudbery. I tried to go at it a different way: total QR budget for 2018-2019 financial year was £1.9 billion, which scaled up to a 6-year REF cycle makes £11.4 billion. There were 47000 4* papers in REF 2014, so an upper bound on the QR money awarded for each 4* paper is the quotient between the two, about £240000; but it won't be a particularly close upper bound, because some money will be awarded for 3* papers, for research environment, and for impact. Mar 6, 2021 at 19:01
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    This paper discusses the various issues with trying to figure out properly how QR money is decided: bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/berj.3229 Mar 6, 2021 at 20:09

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