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UK universities accept Elsevier open-access proposal

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Jisc confirms that sector has accepted the latest proposal from publisher, which meets core requirements

UK universities are close to sealing an open-access deal with the academic publisher Elsevier, following protracted negotiations on the replacement of the UK’s largest subscription agreement.

On 24 February, a spokesperson for the higher education IT firm Jisc confirmed that the sector had accepted a proposal from Elsevier “which meets their core requirements”.

“Contract negotiations are currently ongoing, before a deal is finalised,” they said. 

This is the seventh such proposal during the ongoing negotiations to replace the Jisc Collections Elsevier ScienceDirect Journal agreement that commenced in 2017 and was to end on 31 December 2021.

News of the reported new deal comes almost four months after UK universities rejected an offer from the publisher as it did “not yet meet the two core objectives” to cut costs and establish routes to immediate open access for UK research.

Although Elsevier is the biggest publisher of UK research, it does not have an agreement with UK universities that allows research to be released immediately via open access.

“UK universities and research funders are committed to full and immediate open access, and to transitioning swiftly away from paywalled access, as reflected in their policies and requirements for transformative agreements,” said Jisc in its background notes.

“Elsevier is the largest publisher of UK research, but is now the only major publisher that does not have an agreement in place with UK universities that enables academics to both freely read, and to freely publish, the version of record immediately open access in compliance with funder policies.”

Cost concerns

High costs are also a concern for universities—the current deal cost institutions £50 million in 2021, and Jisc has said the high cost of Elsevier subscriptions is “not sustainable or affordable”.

The costs are accrued through contractual subscription fees from subscribers to read content published in some 1,800 subscription journals, as well as outside the Jisc deal through payments for articles to be published immediately open access in hybrid journals direct from researchers or their funders via institutions.

“Elsevier subscriptions consume an increasing proportion of university budgets; 34 per cent of the total amount paid to the top 12 academic journal publishers on Jisc negotiated agreements by institutions in 2019 was to Elsevier,” Jisc said. “This is not sustainable or affordable.”

Instead, Jisc has been seeking an agreement that “makes articles published by corresponding authors at UK universities immediately open access and enables the reading of articles that remain behind paywalls at a sustainable cost”, and one that will “accelerate and boost the visibility and impact of UK research and deliver better value for institutions, funders, students and researchers”.

Research Professional News understands that the latest proposal, now accepted by Jisc on behalf of UK universities, provides unlimited open-access publishing for UK authors in hybrid journals, including in Cell Press and the Lancet, while also reducing sector spend.

Andrew Davis, vice president for communications at Elsevier, told Research Professional News: “We cannot comment on the specifics of the ongoing negotiation but can reiterate that we have made good progress on our renewal discussions, meeting the requirements Jisc set out on behalf of the sector to enable a sustainable transition to open access for UK research.”