A big deal. Elsevier and the University of Kent

photo of two people shaking hands

The contract between academic publisher Elsevier and UK universities is due for renewal in December 2021. What does this mean for Kent?

The University of Kent subscribes to over 1850 Elsevier ScienceDirect journals – a significant portion of the literature that our University community engages with daily.

At £330,000 our Elsevier subscription represents 30% of Kent’s current subscription spend and is the largest amount we pay to a single publisher. This payment enables University members and users of our library services to access Elsevier journals online.

Authors at the University also publish extensively in Elsevier journals. This is charged separately, so at further cost.

Elsevier, like many publishers use the article processing charge model to make a publication open access in one of their journals. When a Kent author publishes in an Elsevier journal, it can incur between £120 and £7,800 in article processing charges

Is there an alternative?

Yes there is. Publishers and research institutions are working together to develop new business models that support sustainable approaches to open access publishing.

The University of Kent has entered into ‘transitional’ open access agreements with many major publishers and Learned Societies on a ‘read and 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. This also benefits Kent authors as the process of publishing open access in these journals is simpler.

These Read and Publish agreements are supported by UKRI, Wellcome and the other 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 has not yet established a transitional and Plan S-compliant Read and Publish agreement with UK universities.

The importance of a Read and Publish agreement with Elsevier and UK universities

UK universities agreed their priorities for the Elsevier agreement in advance and began negotiations in March 2021 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 an agreement with Elsevier that enables open access publishing, combined with access to pay-walled content, for a reduced fee. If achieved, this would represent the biggest Read and Publish agreement to date in the UK, and the stakes are high.

Jisc, the UK not-for-profit digital services provider for education and research, facilitates the overall negotiations. Kent provides feedback to JISC and Information Services co-ordinates the Kent response via key stakeholders. Senior leaders are closely engaged with these groups and with the University’s response.

A Jisc video highlights the key issues.


What happens if an agreement is not reached?

It is possible that UK universities do not reach an acceptable agreement with Elsevier. While negotiations continue, we will have access to Elsevier content. We also need to prepare, however, should the sector choose to ‘walk away’ from negotiations in order to achieve the best deal. This would mean loss of access to some Elsevier content.

To manage this:

  • We are assessing the value of Kent’s Elsevier journal subscriptions to estimate the percentage of materials that would be available to Kent via Open Access or via Post Cancellation Access (journal backfile).
  • We will also identify critical subscriptions, assess Kent usage of Elsevier content and the likely level of Inter-Library Loan service that would be required to fulfil requests for articles.
  • We will implement additional Inter-Library Loan services as needed to increase our capacity and capability to deliver just-in-time content.
  • We will work to ensure optimal discoverability of Open Access content through LibrarySearch.

Why does getting the best deal matter to researchers at Kent?

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 to academic and non-academic audiences, based on the principle that the results of publicly funded research should be publicly available.

As a ‘dual-intensity’ and civic university with inter-disciplinary signature areas of research, Kent supports this endeavour. Our Open Access Policy states “The University of Kent supports the principles and objectives of Open Access and Open Science. Where possible it will make all forms of output from its research available freely and accessibly in ways that allow them be used and re-used for the benefit of the wider society”.

This principle is also 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. Changes made to both the UKRI Open Access policy and the Wellcome policy reflect this and the next REF Open Access policy is expected to follow suit.

Do you have an opinion?

We are keen to hear what you think and ensure that our response to the negotiations represents the views and needs of our researchers across all disciplines.

Please send feedback to researchsupport@kent.ac.uk


This blog post is a derivative of “The University of Cambridge and Elsevier” blog post by Hannah Haines, used under CC BY. “A big deal. The University of Kent and Elsevier” is licensed under CC BY by Rosalyn Bass and Justine Rush. Creative Commons Attribution licence logo


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