In today’s digital age, open access (OA) journals have revolutionized the dissemination of research findings, promoting the free exchange of knowledge across borders. While OA journals aim to democratize information, they are not without their challenges, particularly for international researchers lacking institutional funding, and researchers who are not connected to a university. This piece delves into the difficulties that unfunded researchers face when striving to contribute to OA journals.

Publication costs: a barrier to entry

One of the primary challenges encountered by these researchers is the cost of publication. While OA journals eliminate subscription fees for readers, they often impose article processing charges (APCs) on authors to cover publication expenses; after all, someone has to pay for the publication. These charges can be substantial for researchers from LMIC/LMI countries, creating a barrier that hinders unfunded international researchers from sharing their work. These researchers might be forced to opt for traditional closed-access publications, thereby restricting the availability of diverse perspectives in the OA landscape.

Limited visibility and impact

In the competitive realm of academia, visibility plays a crucial role in advancing a researcher’s career. Well-funded counterparts have the advantage of being able to attend conferences, promote their work, and collaborate with experts in their field. For unfunded researchers, however, limited financial resources translate to limited opportunities for networking and collaboration. This lack of visibility can result in their work going unnoticed or underappreciated, undermining the potential impact of their contribution to the research community.

Access to resources: a catch-22 situation

OA access pertains to the availability of published work, but it does not address the underlying issue of access to necessary research resources. Unfunded researchers often lack access to specialized databases, research tools, and equipment that could enhance the quality of their work. This limitation creates a catch-22 situation: without the ability to produce high-quality research, it becomes challenging to secure funding or recognition, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage.

Ethical dilemmas in research

Ethical considerations also come to the forefront for unfunded researchers. Some may face challenges in meeting ethical standards due to limited resources. For instance, conducting fieldwork, ensuring participant privacy, or maintaining research integrity might become difficult without the necessary funding. This can lead to compromised research quality and potential ethical breaches, hindering the researcher’s credibility and the overall reliability of their work.

Language barriers and quality assurance

International researchers often hail from diverse linguistic backgrounds, and while English is the lingua franca of academia, language barriers can impede effective communication. For researchers without access to resources for language editing or translation services, publishing in academic journals might pose difficulties. Moreover, stringent peer-review processes in reputable academic journals demand rigorous standards of writing and research methodology. Unfunded international researchers might struggle to meet these standards due to limited access to training and mentorship, leading to rejections and missed opportunities.


The advent of OA journals has undoubtedly revolutionized the way research is disseminated and accessed globally. However, it is imperative to recognize that these platforms are not universally accessible. Unfunded researchers encounter a myriad of challenges, from financial barriers to limited visibility and restricted access to academic resources. Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts from various stakeholders, including universities, funding agencies, and the OA community.

To ensure a more inclusive OA landscape, solutions could include establishing dedicated funding mechanisms to support unfunded researchers and creating mentorship programs. Additionally, academic societies and organizations can play a role by offering unfunded researchers access to their conferences and workshops.

By acknowledging and actively working to mitigate the challenges faced by unfunded researchers, the academic community can move closer to realizing the true potential of OA—a platform that transcends financial barriers and fosters a global exchange of knowledge for the betterment of all.

Wayne Sime is chief executive of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP).