The contract between academic publisher Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

What will happen as that date approaches?

Published 05 July 2021

The University of Aberdeen subscribes to around 2,259 Elsevier ScienceDirect journals - a significant portion of the literature that our researchers engage with daily.

The University’s current subscription deal with Elsevier accounts for 25% of our Library’s entire content budget.

Authors at the University also publish extensively in Elsevier journals. This incurs a separate cost - why?

Most major research funders mandate that grant-holders provide open access to the outputs of their research: authors are required to make their publications openly accessible by academic and non-academic audiences.

The University of Aberdeen supports Open Research.

Likewise, this principle is central to the international Plan S initiative which requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

Many publishers impose article processing charges (APCs) to make a publication open access in one of their journals.

An individual article published open access in an Elsevier journal can incur between £120 - £7,800 in Article Processing Charges.

Is there an alternative?

Publishers and research institutions are developing a range of new business models to find sustainable approaches to open access publishing.

The University of Aberdeen has entered into 'transitional' open access agreements with many major publishers on a read & publish model. Under these agreements, the publisher receives payment for providing access to their journal portfolio and payment for publishing, bundled into a single contract.

In this way, the University supports the wide dissemination of its research and scholarship at a sustainable cost - with the further benefit that the process of publishing open access in these journals is simpler for Aberdeen authors.

Transitional agreements are supported by cOAlition S funders: they help to transform scholarly publishing towards the Plan S goal of achieving full and immediate open access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications from research funded by public and private grants.

There is currently no open access agreement in place with Elsevier, and open access fees are paid on an article-by-article basis where funding is available.

Despite publishing over 20% of UK output, Elsevier is unusual in not having established a transitional and Plan S-compliant open access agreement with UK universities.

The contract between Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

The UK Universities sector is entering negotiations with Elsevier with two core objectives: to reduce costs to levels UK universities can sustain, and to provide full and immediate open access to UK research.

The aim is to secure a read and publish agreement with Elsevier, converting subscription expenditure to support immediate open access publishing, and maintaining access to paywalled content for a reduced fee.

UK Universities agreed their priorities for the next Elsevier agreement in 2020 and began negotiations in March 2021. The negotiations are governed by two groups; the Universities UK content negotiation strategy group and the content expert group. Representatives from each group will sit on the official negotiation team and Jisc, the UK not-for-profit digital services provider for education and research, facilitates the overall negotiations.

Jisc has produced the following video to highlight the key issues. 

To co-ordinate the University of Aberdeen’s contribution to this process, Simon Bains, University Librarian, is working with representatives across all disciplines within the University's academic community.

We are now gathering information in support of planning and analysis to inform an institutional response to negotiations and to make sure that our needs are properly represented. It is important that researchers at Aberdeen at all levels have a chance to share their views. Simon Bains, University Librarian, sits on the UUK/Jisc Content Negotiation Strategy Group and is very happy to hear views and questions. Simon also invites interest in joining a consultative group to respond to developments in the negotiations and assist in communicating updates across the University. See his recent invitation in the Staff Newsletter.

Adapted by Joanna Adams from an original version written by Hannah Haines for the University of Cambridge and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.