UC System Terminates Contract with Major Academic Research Provider, Promotes Open Access by 2020

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Arlene Banuelos / The Triton

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The University of California (UC) system terminated its contract with Elsevier on February 28 after months of negotiations for low-cost access to academic research. Elsevier is one of the world’s largest and most expensive publication services for academic research and other scholarly publications, focusing on medical, technical, and scientific information.

According to the UC Office of the President (UCOP), Elsevier disseminates 18 percent of journal articles produced by UC Faculty and is the most expensive academic journal contract for the UC System, with 25 percent of the annual systemwide journals budget spent on Elsevier.

Elsevier has faced criticism for years regarding its expensive subscription fees, with institutions such as Harvard University stating that they were unable to afford the subscription costs for their contract with the service.

In order to publish their own research, UC scholars are required to pay publishing fees to Elsevier, on top of the UC System’s subscription fees in their contract. To address this, the UC System proposed the integration of subscription charges and open access publishing fees to stabilize journal costs, which Elsevier rejected.

In response to failed negotiations with the UC system, Elsevier claimed that they are disappointed with the UC System’s response to cut off negotiations unilaterally.

“During the negotiations…we put forward a unique model that supports [California Digital Library’s] multi-payer open access request. It provides a clear path allowing every researcher to choose to publish for free or open access and provides a scaled path to reduce the costs for each campus library,” Elsevier stated.

Elsevier is expected to limit the UC system’s access to 2019 and future publications and some historical texts published through its online platform ScienceDirect, but many titles published in 2018 and earlier will still be available, according to Erik Mitchell, Audrey Geisel University Librarian. UC San Diego’s Geisel Library has released a full library guide specifying which titles and publications will be affected by the contract termination to best assist researchers and scholars.

Kimberly Cooper, an Assistant Professor in the UCSD Biological Sciences Department, expressed support for the UC system’s decision to terminate its contract with Elsevier.

“Access to research online has opened up science globally, but the [Elsevier] paywall still means that I get PDF requests for papers from people at institutions that can’t afford all of the online subscription fees,” Cooper said.

On July 24, 2013, the UC System adopted the Open Access (OA) policy, an initiative focused on making academic publications and journals free and accessible. Since then, the UC System has made changes to shift to OA system-wide, Mitchell told The TritonSome changes include expanding OA policy for UC Academic Senate members and the adoption of the Presidential OA policy for non-senate members, respectively.

According to a press release by the UC Office of Scholarly Communication, OA policy would increase the number of people who use UC authors’ research, improving accessibility to academic research.

Prior to the Elsevier contract termination, UCSD signed an Expression of Interest (EOI) supporting the adoption of Open Access by 2020 (OA2020), an international effort to gain free access to scholarly publications by replacing the current subscription approach. Other UC campuses that have signed the EOI include Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, and San Francisco.

“The principles of open access are central to UCSD’s mission as a public research university: to disseminate scholarship and research results and translate scientific discoveries into practical knowledge and innovations that benefit California and society at large,” Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Simmons said in the press release.

Orianna Borrelli is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. You can follow her on Twitter at @orianna_b.