Jisc begins open access negotiations with Elsevier

A freedom of information request last year revealed that Elsevier subscriptions cost the HE sector more than £40m

Jisc hopes to negotiate an open access agreement with international academic publisher Elsevier that cuts subscription costs for universities.

The not-for-profit HE tech company represents 160 institutions in the higher education sector in negotiations with major publishers. Its conversations with Elsevier began this week.

It is estimated the sector’s annual bill for Elsevier, which publishes the Lancet, could be as much as £50 million. Jisc has secured several deals – including one with Wiley last year – that should reduce fees for universities.

Last year, a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed that UK universities spent more than £112m on journal subscriptions in 2019, prompting Jisc to pledge to cut costs with new open access agreements.

The FOI request sent to UK universities asked them to publish the amount they spent on subscriptions with the 10 largest academic publishers every year between 2017 to 2019.

Elsevier topped the list, costing higher education institutions (HEIs) a combined £41m.

The Wiley agreement means institutions and their users can access all of the publisher’s journals with no extra costs, and it covers 80% of upfront publishing fees. Many research funders now set requirements that academics publish research open access – but this comes at a publishing cost to universities.

Elsevier said it would “look forward to further constructive conversations” with Jisc. It added that it had launched 115 new journals last year, of which nine in 10 were open access.

Liam Earney, Jisc’s director of digital resources, said: “Our costs are increasing at an unsustainable rate. We want to achieve the transition to open access within our current budgetary envelopes. Many of our members have felt they were not deriving sufficient economic value from the agreement with publishers.”

Several academics tweeted their scepticism about the prospects of a deal.

Stephen Eglen, professor of computational neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, tweeted: “I’d like to see the discussions with Elsevier held in the open so that we can evaluate what is being sold to us, and in what direction it takes Scholarly Communications.”

Sir William Timothy Gowers, director of research at the University of Cambridge and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, tweeted: “Five years ago Jisc talked tough and then about three months before the deadline for the end of negotiations meekly caved in. But it’s difficult for them to do otherwise unless we let them know that we’re ready to do without Elsevier subscriptions for a while.”


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