About the Elsevier ScienceDirect journals agreement negotiations

The background to the negotiations and why they matter.

Why Elsevier negotiations matter

Open research, and open access to research publications, is a priority for UK universities and research funders. UK academics produce outstanding high-quality research, often in collaboration with academics across the globe (pdf). In 2018, 55% of UK publications were the result of international collaboration. This makes the UK the second most internationally collaborative country.

The imperative to ensure wide and free access to research, under conditions that allow for maximum re-use is stronger than ever and the benefits of open access to research content for academics, citizens, students, industry are well catalogued.

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.

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 including the Wellcome Trust.

The current Jisc Collections Elsevier ScienceDirect Journal agreement, which commenced in 2017 and will end on 31 December 2021, is the UK’s largest subscription agreement. In 2020, Elsevier received £41.95m in contractual subscription fees from subscribers to read content published in 1,808 subscription journals. Outside of the Jisc agreement, Elsevier also receives payments for articles to be published immediately open access in hybrid journals direct from researchers via institutions, and from research funders via institutions - in 2019 this was c£7.24m.

In 2021, sector expenditure will total over £50m, comprised of subscription spend and 2019 hybrid open access publishing spend. For this spend, approximately 25% of UK authored articles published with Elsevier will be published open access.

Universities, researchers, and funders need the investment they make in creating and funding research published by Elsevier to deliver better value.

It is now necessary to negotiate an agreement that brings the costs of both reading and full and immediate open access publishing in line with other agreements and in line with funder policies and sector requirements.

An agreement with Elsevier 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, will accelerate and boost the visibility and impact of UK research and deliver better value for institutions, funders, students and researchers.

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

The priorities for the agreement with Elsevier

Universities have been consulted on the negotiation strategy. A number of scenarios were presented, including the option of not engaging. Institutions were clear that the preference is to seek an agreement that rapidly transitions UK research outputs to open access (OA) in support of UK government and funder policy whilst ensuring that the fees charged are transparent, affordable, and commensurate with the publishing services provided.

Based on its requirements for transitional agreements, the sector, through consultation, has identified the following priorities for its agreement with Elsevier:

1. Support full and immediate open access to research

The sector is seeking an agreement that rapidly transitions UK research output to immediate open access. UK institutions are committed to open research. The knowledge and discoveries resulting from the investment and collective effort of the sector must be available to all for maximum benefit and use:

  • Where an offer seeks gold open access, it should allow 100% of corresponding authors to publish their articles OA, retain rights and automatically apply a CC BY licence
  • Where an offer seeks green open access, it should support 100% of corresponding authors to publish their works OA with zero embargo and deposit the version of record or author accepted manuscript in repositories
  • The sector’s negotiations seek to democratise access to knowledge, further discovery, and to increase the return on investment in research and education. Agreements will not apply any condition that risks the open sharing of research outputs, data, or educational materials, or that limits interoperability and reproducibility
  • The agreement must break the link from legacy pricing models to support the implementation of clear, fair, and transparent pricing models better suited to an open access environment
  • To secure long term access and to build confidence the transition the agreement must guarantee permanent full-text access to all content. This will remove the need for publishers and institutions to maintain entitlement records for paywalled content
  • Public funds and collective effort have assisted the transformation of titles to OA. Elsevier’s OA titles should remain OA and not revert to paywalled, restricted access

2. Reduce and constrain costs

How: reduce sector expenditure with Elsevier to levels universities can sustain - with a competitive effective cost per article.

The agreement must:

  • Reduce current expenditure with Elsevier - the total fee charged for both access to paywalled content and OA publishing must result in a material reduction in expenditure
  • Offer fair, affordable, and sustainable fees for access and publishing services
  • Open access publishing must be met through subscription expenditure and not require new funds

3. Build confidence that the charges for the next Elsevier agreement are fair and reasonable

How: share progress in the transition to OA and data with Jisc and the sector via the transitional agreement oversight group.

It is in the public interest, not only that publicly funded research has the widest possible reach, but that the costs, and rate of progress in the transition to open access, are openly available and understood. This will allow the sector to benchmark, improve processes, and better understand where investment or divestment is required.

The goal is the implementation of fair, transparent, affordable, and sustainable pricing for Elsevier’s services and greater transparency of costs both for next agreement and its component parts.

4. Deliver full compliance with funder policies and improvements in service

How: Make open access the default to deliver a better service to UK authors, funders, and institutions.

Implement service levels to accurately identify eligible articles, authors, and funders and to apply the correct licensing terms and to deposit in into PubMed Central (PMC) and Europe PMC where required.

How the negotiations will be governed

They are sector owned: these are the sector’s negotiations, led by the sector.

Universities are negotiating with Elsevier through two representative groups – representatives from each group will sit on the official negotiation team:

  • The UUK/Jisc content negotiation strategy group comprises senior university leaders, they drive the overarching objectives and strategy for the sector’s negotiations.
  • The content expert group represents expert practitioners and will work with the content negotiation strategy group and negotiation team to help set the detailed tactics and ensure alignment between strategy and implementation at the national and institutional level.

Negotiation team members

The negotiation team is:

  • Professor Paul Boyle, vice-chancellor, Swansea University (chair of UUK Research and Innovation Network)
  • Professor Stephen Decent, provost and deputy vice-chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University (chair of the UUK/Jisc content negotiation strategy group)
  • Chris Banks, assistant provost (space) and director of library service, Imperial College London (chair of the Jisc content expert group)
  • Liam Earney, executive director, digital resources, Jisc
  • Caren Milloy, director of licensing, Jisc
  • Anna Vernon, head of portfolio: content licensing, Jisc

Find out more

Our strategic groups set the direction of negotiations and ensure that our members' requirements are embedded into our service.

Disover Jisc's strategic groups