Advancing Equity and Innovation in Research Publishing: Time for a New Era in the Open Access Movement?

Today marks a significant milestone as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) announces a new Open Access policy, representing a departure from traditional practices. This policy will cease support for individual article publishing fees, known as APCs, and mandate the use of preprints while advocating for their review. This blog looks at the rationale behind this change, exploring the persistent challenges in research publishing and the potential of preprint servers as a solution. It also examines the implications for researchers and research users, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of this new approach. Finally, it offers recommendations for research funders and researchers to embrace this shift towards equity and innovation in research publishing.

The new BMGF open access policy

For a decade, the BMGF has championed transparency, access, and equity in scholarly publishing by advocating for a more open research ecosystem. Yet major challenges with research publishing persist, and as such, the foundation has decided to make a significant departure from traditional practices.

At its core, the BMGF Open Access policy will:

  • End the foundation’s support for individual article publishing fees
  • Require preprints and advocate for their review

The approach aligns with a strategy to reform global research publishing known as Plan U. At its core, Plan U aims to separate the slow and sometimes idiosyncratic process of quality assessment (peer review) from the publishing of research.

Why is this change needed?

Two key challenges persist in research publishing: timeliness and openness. Journal publications often take months or in some cases, more than a year to be published, and the majority of research remains behind paywalls. Despite decades of initiatives, recent increases in Open Access publication have been achieved through costly APCs, effectively excluding those unable to afford publishing fees. Moreover, even if research funders are willing to overpay and accept a system that locks out those who can’t, at the current rate of change it will take 70 years to see the big five publishers flip their journals to fully Open Access. Urgent global problems do not work on this timescale.

This is not just a problem for researchers. Globally $1 trillion per year is spent on research; investment which supports the pursuit of all kinds of human social and economic progress. Concerns about the inability of our current publishing systems to adequately share the results of this investment should be a higher political priority.

Why the focus on “preprint servers”?

Preprint servers offer a no-frills, low-cost digital publishing platform where authors can upload their work before formal peer review. Many scientific disciplines have used preprint servers for decades and their use has grown rapidly in recent years, partly due to the  COVID-19 pandemic, when immediate access to information became paramount. Publishing in this way offers immediate, full, open access to research results, though it does not typically include a quality assessment step.

While peer review remains important for ensuring quality, there are many issues with the current model and there is much innovation in approaches to peer review already underway. Focusing publication requirements on preprint servers creates space for innovation in peer review or other quality assessment and curation models. It will be important for funders to monitor research quality and invest in mechanisms for ensuring research integrity.

Today, print copies of research papers are increasingly rare, begging a change to the label of “preprint server”. Nevertheless, low-cost digital publishing platforms must be key to major reform of research publishing and funders are also beginning to view preprints as valid indicators of research.

Implications for researchers and research users

Researchers will be able to quickly and easily share the results of their work, without the traditional gatekeepers. However, in the current prestige economy, some may still feel pressure to publish in traditional journals to meet career or funding requirements. Additionally, research funders that decline to pay APCs but require open publication may feel disadvantaged compared to peers supported by funders willing to pay APCs for publication in top-tier journals. This could also result in more paywalled journal articles forcing those who struggle with access to articles to rely on other methods. However, pursuing Open Access through pay-to-publish without controlling costs to research funders, as major recent initiatives effectively did, does not solve any of these issues.

The major benefits of preprint servers to research users are quick and cost-free access to new research. However, the lack of quality assessment in pre-prints is a potential drawback. Innovation in open quality assessment will be needed to address this challenge and complement the shift towards preprint-centric Open Access policies.


Political leaders:

Research funders:

  • Consider requiring preprints and ceasing to pay for APCs to promote equitable publishing practices.
  • Invest this funding into models that benefit the whole ecosystem and not individual funded researchers.
  • Support innovative initiatives that facilitate peer review and curation separately from traditional publication.
  • Value research output based on its merits, rather than the perceived prestige of the publishing platform.


  • Consider alternative Open Access publishing models to promote equitable access to research.
  • Peer review for journals whose values match your own—where you give your labour and work for free matters.
  • Advocate for more research funders to adopt preprint-centric Open Access policies.
  • Value peer-reviewed research on its merits, rather than the perceived prestige of the publishing platform.

As we navigate this new era in the Open Access movement, a willingness to embrace change and new ways of working among research funders, researchers, and research users will be crucial to advancing equity and innovation in research publishing. Let us take bold action to try something different and adapt as needed. Let us embrace this opportunity to create a more inclusive and impactful research ecosystem for the benefit of all.

Thanks to Ashley Farley and Javier Guzman for feedback on an earlier draft.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.