A freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that UK universities spent more than £112m on journal subscriptions last year, prompting Jisc to pledge to cut costs with new open access agreements.
Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research, recently announced a new “read and publish” agreement with journal publisher Wiley on behalf of all UK higher education institutions. The deal, which was agreed for an undisclosed sum, combines costs to reduce the price of subscriptions.
The FOI request sent to UK universities asked them to publish the amount they spent on subscriptions with the 10 largest academic publishers between 2017 to 2019.
Elsevier topped the list, costing higher education institutions (HEIs) a combined £41m.
Subscriptions to Wiley and Taylor & Francis in 2019 cost the sector over £18.8m and £17.1m, respectively.
The data was revealed by an FOI request from Stuart Lawson, who is a library worker and a researcher with a doctorate on the politics of open access.
Several large HEIs, including Anglia Ruskin, Birmingham, Bradford, Kent, Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham Trent universities, did not respond to the FOI request, meaning the total subscription costs are likely to be higher than those stated.
We always need to go further, and this means including much more open access publishing at an acceptable price
– Liam Earney, Jisc
– publishing is necessary, and needs to be paid for somehow, but paywalls need to end. Universities are continuing to pay very large amounts of money and, despite ‘transformative agreements’, we are a long way from full open access
— stuart lawson (@lawsonstu) February 10, 2020
Tweeting after the results of the FOIs were made public, Lawson said: “Universities are continuing to pay very large amounts of money and, despite ‘transformative agreements’, we are a long way from full open access.”
Liam Earney, Jisc’s executive director for digital resources, said Jisc is hoping to emulate the success of other European countries, which had negotiated transformative deals with publishers in recent months.
“We have reviewed the approaches that have been taken elsewhere, in countries such as Norway, Sweden, Hungary and Germany and will be working to negotiate a deal that is good value for money given the challenging fiscal position that many universities now face,” said Mr Earney, adding: “We are keen to build on what has been achieved with our members – which has seen us achieve widespread access to content – but we always need to go further, and this means including much more open access publishing at an acceptable price.”
Universities UK and Jisc have convened a “high-level group” of senior HEI leaders to “achieve sustainable, affordable and innovative agreements with major publishers”.
Mr Earney said: “The research publishing environment is facing huge change with high-profile negotiations in Europe and the US, the UKRI’s review of its open access policy, the establishment of cOAlition S and the release of a new Wellcome Trust OA policy.
“It is essential that our negotiations with publishers are backed by senior leaders to help universities overcome the challenges and maximise the benefits offered by this changing environment.”
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