Elsevier negotiations: what lies ahead for UK universities

The current ScienceDirect contract between Elsevier and UK universities is due for renewal on the 31st of December 2021. A UK-wide consortium has been formed in the hopes of re-negotiating the terms of this contract, which as it stands is not sufficient to meet the sector’s growing needs.

The desired outcome of these negotiations is a comprehensive transformative (‘read and publish’) agreement which will cover access to Elsevier’s journals as well as open access publishing costs. Such an agreement would enable researchers to comply with funder policies and sector requirements, while also constraining sector costs.

Although negotiations are still ongoing, universities across the UK are preparing for a no-agreement scenario in the event that a deal cannot be struck. Find out how this would affect researchers at the University of Plymouth below.

Change is necessary

Elsevier is the largest publisher of UK research, and subscriptions to its content consume an enormous proportion of library budgets: of the total amount paid to the top twelve academic publishers through Jisc negotiated agreements, subscriptions to Elsevier accounted for 34% of the spend in 2019. In the same year, the company which owns Elsevier (RELX Group) made a profit of 31%.

Despite the tremendous cost of its subscription fees, Elsevier is now the only major publisher not to have established a transformative agreement for UK universities. A transformative (or ‘read and publish’) agreement is one that integrates the cost of open access publishing with ‘read’ access to content, with the aim of reducing the sector’s total spend while allowing researchers to publish open access content at no cost to themselves. Elsevier’s competitors all provide such contracts for UK universities.

In light of new funder policies and sector requirements, the imperative for researchers to publish open access is greater than ever. It is neither acceptable nor sustainable for the sector to continue to meet the ever-rising cost of Elsevier subscriptions which currently do nothing to accommodate the growing need for open access. Left unchanged, the contract between Elsevier and UK universities would hinder the movement towards open access, restrict researchers’ publishing freedoms, and exhaust university funds which could be put to better use. As the renewal date for this contract approaches, it is therefore crucial that its terms are renegotiated.

Negotiations with Elsevier commenced in March this year, led by the sector and facilitated by Jisc. The desired outcome of these negotiations is to produce an agreement which is affordable for UK universities, and which combines the costs of both reading and open access, in line with other transformative agreements.

Negotiations are still ongoing

The current ScienceDirect deal ends on 31 December 2021, although negotiations may run beyond the end of this agreement. If this happens, it is possible that there could be some disruption to content access if Elsevier does not extend a grace period to the sector while negotiations continue – although in the past Elsevier has not withdrawn access to content during ongoing negotiations.

The Library will communicate any developments to the University of Plymouth community so that researchers may prepare in the event of disrupted access.


The next steps

The sector is preparing for a range of alternative solutions that could be implemented to offer access to content and publishing if negotiations are ultimately not successful. Whether a transformative agreement can be negotiated with Elsevier, or the sector is forced to explore alternative options, the Library will communicate developments with the University of Plymouth research community and provide support throughout the process. University of Plymouth researchers can direct any questions towards their Information Specialist, or contact openresearch@plymouth.ac.uk.


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