Union calls for review of ‘prohibitively expensive’ academic e-book industry

The UCU has called on the minister for universities to instigate a review of the ‘exploitative’ academic e-book market

The University and College Union (UCU) has called on the minister for universities to ensure academic e-books are more accessible for university staff and students.

In an open letter to Michelle Donelan, the union expressed concern that the inability of institutions to purchase expensive e-book licenses is disrupting learning and inhibiting “a vibrant higher education sector producing world-beating research”.

The letter highlights the increased use of online academic e-books as a result of the pandemic and explains that e-book costs can be up to ten times the amount of regular books, causing many lecturers to tailor reading lists to include only accessible content.

In addition to being expensive, only 10% of academic books are available to universities in e-book format.

University library budgets are finite, and are frequently prone to cuts and UCU fears that further budget cuts may happen this year as we wait for the extent of the impact of the pandemic on HE institutions to become clear –UCU

The union believes the issue stems from “a lack of competition or alternative options” within academic e-book publishing where “only a few key players” dominate the industry forcing university libraries to either purchase expensive licenses or not purchase e-books at all.

The letter explains that e-book licenses are often “confusing” and “increase in price arbitrarily” and highlights that most universities do not purchase licenses due to limited budgets and fears of future budget cuts.

An extract from the letter says: “University library budgets are finite, and are frequently prone to cuts and UCU fears that further budget cuts may happen this year as we wait for the extent of the impact of the pandemic on HE institutions to become clear.”

In final remarks, the union called the minister to contact the Competition and Markets Authority to review the industry and “ensure that research, information and ideas are accessible to those enrolling in universities”.


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