The global COVID-19 crisis has turned public attention to the special need for accessing those cutting-edge studies that are needed for further scientific innovation. Theses and dissertations (TDs) are prominent examples of such studies. TDs are academic research projects conducted by graduate students to acquire a high academic degree, such as a PhD. They encompass not only knowledge about basic science but also knowledge that generates social and economic value for society. Therefore, access to TDs is imperative for promoting science and innovation.

Open access to scientific publications has been in the focus of public policy discourse for two decades, but progress toward this end has been limited. As part of this discourse, there has been no systematic discussion of the special case of TDs and of the justification for adopting an open access publication policy toward them. The present study aims to fill this gap. We argue that the essence of TDs as unique outputs of academic research merits a special policy mandating the publication of these studies in open access format, subject to certain exceptions. This policy is underpinned by several arguments, which we develop in our study, based on historic and normative analysis. These considerations support reconceiving access to TDs using an open access approach designated particularly for them.

To better understand current open access policies toward TDs, we conducted a limited semi-empirical investigation to collect information. Our findings confirm that–despite the growing awareness of the importance of an open access TDs policy–no standard policy exists. Therefore, we propose to establish a mandatory global policy and standardization regarding the publication of TDs in designated repositories, open to the public, that would generate together an “open world wide web of TDs.” Such a global framework would facilitate the progress of science and promote the public good worldwide. In the aftermath of the global COVID-19 crisis, it seems that the time is ripe for such a move at both international and national levels.