Toespraak van staatssecretaris Dekker bij de internationale workshop over Open Access

Toespraak van staatssecretaris Dekker (OCW) bij de internationale workshop over Open Access van NWO op 21 maart 2016 in Den Haag. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO in The Hague. We're here today to exchange views on the need for open access. But before we start our discussion, I'd like to tell you a little bit more about the Netherlands.

As you probably know, a large part of our country is below sea level. So it would make sense to assume that water is our enemy. But that’s not true. We see water as our most important ally.

Our friendship with water goes back to the very roots of our nation. During the 80 Years' War, the strategy of the Spanish Duke of Alba was to besiege towns and cities in winter. The cold and ice meant that Spanish troops could cut off the people's food supplies and overpower them easily.

But they couldn’t do that here. Because Dutch people could skate on ice.

Skating in those days was a lot like cycling is today. Children learnt to skate as soon as they could walk. And even if our roads were blocked, our waterways were always open. Rich and poor people all joined forces to skate outside the city walls and get hold of food. The Duke of Alba and his army were literally left standing. Of course, the Duke gave his soldiers skates too, but there was no-one  willing to teach them how to skate.

But times have changed. We no longer need the ice to go get food, and we usually go to an ice rink these days to watch skating as a sports. And this has paid off. During the last Winter Olympics, our men’s team came close to winning all the gold medals for long-distance speed skating. And our ladies’ team won a total of ten Olympic medals too.

We could keep our supremacy if we kept all our knowledge of skating a secret, like we did in the 16th century. But you can only have real competition if your rivals have the same opportunities as you do.

Here in the Netherlands we believe in the power of competition. We believe that sharing your ideas makes you stronger. So we share our knowledge on training schemes, aerodynamic skating suits, innovations to make skates faster. As a result, we create a level playing field. That’s good for competition - and good for individual performance as well.

That’s also why Dutch skating coaches work in other countries. Besides the Netherlands, they train skaters in countries like China, the United States, Canada, Germany. Funnily enough, these countries just happen to be our biggest competitors on the ice. But Dutch skaters also benefit. Because all that competition means they have to do their very best to win.

In the world of science, it's exactly the same. Each scientist wants to be the very best and go down in history with a big breakthrough. But scientists no longer achieve big bangs in splendid isolation. This was proved yet again last month when another part of a theory of Einstein was confirmed. It took more than 1.000 scientists from different disciplines, and from countries all over the world, to prove only a part of the theory that sprung from one man’s mind.

Science is teamwork. Teamwork among academics specializing in different fields. Teamwork among researchers from different countries. And teamwork between scientists and non-scientists. The most exciting things happen right there. At the point where all those different worlds meet. And we still have a lot to cover there. This is because all too often, science is only accessible to scientists. Sharing know-how may be totally normal in the world of sports, but science has a high wall around it. A wall that keeps scientists’ knowledge inside - and keeps the public out.


Maybe scientists themselves can’t see that wall between themselves and the rest of the world. The articles researchers write are published in journals that they have access to. But this is because their universities take out subscriptions for them. Their work simply isn’t available to anyone else.

If you work outside the walls of a university, you’re faced with yet another wall: you have to pay. I couldn’t believe my eyes a while back when I found I had to pull my credit card to read an article I had written myself!

Well, maybe that isn’t such a big deal for just one article. But for the teachers who wants to know more about the latest innovation on didactics.
And for the starting entrepreneur who wants to access knowledge on making his company cradle-to-cradle. Or for the doctor who needs new solutions to tackle infectious diseases, cut infant mortality and reduce malnutrition in the world’s poorest places.

All these people are missing out on the research that the scientists that you are funding work so hard on. In spite of the fact that the public pays for this research. And they pay for the subscriptions to professional journals on top of that. But at the end of the day, they themselves don’t benefit from any of this.


This closed-circuit system slows down innovation. It hampers competition. It puts up barriers for knowledge sharing, at a time that knowledge sharing is of vital importance. Knowledge paid for with public money, must be available to that very same public. Here in the Netherlands, knowledge institutes and universities have joined forces to make agreements with academic publishers that promote Open Access. The Association of Dutch Universities has come up with new open access models, after tough negotiations with the big publishing houses. NWO’s funding conditions demand that research results are directly accessible without any embargoes. And they make sure academics comply with these conditions as well.

So we’re taking big steps in the right direction. But the Netherlands is only 1 player on the global market. We can only succeed in making science accessible – to everyone and everywhere – if all of us get together and make it happen!

We need each other to get this done. We need scientists who only publish open access. And this is where you come in, as they need you to achieve this.

In our present system, it’s in the interest of the scientist to publish in high-profile journals. If they publish articles in Science, Nature or Cell, this means they build up a certain reputation. It also means - rightly or wrongly - that they give an impression of quality.


It’s real hard for scientists to publish their articles only in open access journals. Maybe these journals get read by more people, but they don’t give the prestige of publishing in so-called top journals. Scientists need this prestige in order to score your funding for their research. And this brings us right back to first base again. It’s a vicious circle that nobody has the courage to break through on its own. But we’ll have to do it if we want to make sure that everyone benefits from science.

Lucky for us, we’re here today with the big scientific funding organizations. If we all pull together, we can break out of the vicious circle and make science open and transparent for all citizens.


You can do this by following the NWO’s example. By including a special clause in your funding conditions, that research paid for by the public has to be published in open access journals. You can do this by changing the quality assessment system. This in turn will take away the incentive to publish articles in expensive journals. You can do this by including knowledge sharing with the public in the selection and evaluation system. And by asking scientists to do research that will benefit all of us.

I’d like to invite all of you to come up with ideas and suggestions - right here and right now - for changing the system for awarding grants. We can create a system that fosters openness and transparency. A system where we can ensure that journals with open access publication become a guarantee for quality (and rightly so). This in turn will encourage scientists to publish in these open access journals.

Ladies and gentlemen,


I told you about some of our Olympic champions right at the start. One of the most important principles in the Olympic Games is that participation is more important than winning. But in open access, participation is winning. If we participate, this not only makes us better: it makes society better. Because open access means that many, many more people can learn and benefit from the work our scientist work so hard on. So let’s make it happen.

Thank you.