Working with transitional agreements

Guidelines for evaluating and communicating transitional open access (OA) agreements.

Colleagues having a discussion.


Institutions have let us know that transitional agreements (TAs) are requiring them to work in new ways and that this work can be complex. For some institutions, transitional agreements have raised the profile of open access (OA) with senior stakeholders, for others they’ve brought together teams that had not previously worked closely to assess publisher offers. For all institutions, transitional agreements provide open access publishing options that need to be understood by researchers.

We’ve created some resources to help institutions communicate and evaluate transitional agreements. We’ve also sourced case studies to show how some institutions have adapted their working practices and how they are communicating transitional agreements to their various audiences, including senior leaders and researchers.

These resources will also support messages to library and institutional colleagues about developments in scholarly communication.

Communicating with senior stakeholders

Transitional agreements (TAs) will be of interest to senior stakeholders for various reasons, for example, impact on costs and budgets, open access agenda and funder compliance, and effect on publishing options.

Engaging this group with transitional agreements will be vital in achieving significant and lasting change in scholarly communications. We’ve provided template text answering five questions to support the creation of briefing notes or presentations.


What are transitional agreements?

Transitional agreements are examples of the ‘transformative arrangements’ referred to in the Plan S implementation guidance. They align with the open access objectives of the UK’s major research funders, including UKRI and Wellcome Trust.

Transitional agreements are contracts which gradually shift the basis of payments from an institution to a publisher from subscription-based reading to open access publishing services in a controlled manner.

Such agreements are intended to ensure that the financial impact to UKHE of a transition to full and immediate open access will be minimal. In other words, that journal subscription budgets are converted to pay for a suite of open access publishing services.

What is the background to transitional agreements?

Since 2013 most subscription publishers have received two forms of payments from UK institutions: subscription fees and open access article processing charges (APCs).

Efforts to constrain these costs have only partially succeeded and the transition to open access has not been as rapid as anticipated, with publishers unwilling to shift away from the subscription-based business model. In 2018 UK academic institutions and sector agencies, working alongside Jisc established a set of requirements for transformative agreements which set out the measures required to accelerate open access in the UK.

Plan S, announced in September 2018 by a group of research funding organisations (cOAlition S), aims to expedite the transition to full and immediate open access to research publications and challenges publishers to move away from the hybrid (subscription) business model.

Under Plan S, publishing in hybrid (subscription) journals is only permissible if journals are part of a ‘transformative arrangement’. Plan S started to apply from January 2021, though individual funders can choose when to introduce the measures in their respective open access policies. The new Wellcome Trust policy began in January 2021.

What are the financial implications of transitional agreements?

In negotiations Jisc seek agreements that reduce and constrain costs, ie, the total fee charged for both access to paywalled content and open access publishing must result in a reduction on existing subscription expenditure.

In the short term (until December 2024), institutions in receipt of open access block grants from UKRI, Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research Uk or the British Heart Foundation may use these funds towards the cost of transitional agreements. Funders have provided guidance to institutions on this point.

It is not yet clear if funders that provide open access funding within individual grants, eg the European Commission, will allow these to be used towards the cost of transitional agreements.

How will the institution benefit from engaging with transitional agreements?

Transitional agreements ensure that researchers can continue to publish in hybrid (subscription) journals and comply with funder open access requirements.

Transitional agreements can broaden open access publishing opportunities for authors across campus and disciplines and increase the institution’s volume of open access publishing.

Transitional agreements negotiated at a national level ensure that the costs to institutions, for both reading (subscription) and publishing (open access), are affordable and controlled. They increase efficiencies via time-saving workflows for authors and open access administrators, and author-facing communication from publishers that minimise the need for campus-led advocacy initiatives.

Transitional agreements have the potential to break up big deal journal subscription packages, enabling the shift away from current inequitable pricing models and supporting rationalisation of collections. Participating institutions will be encouraged to contribute views on the future of scholarly communication and agreements with publishers.    

Savings achieved through transitional agreement negotiations should allow institutions to repurpose budgets, for example to create or increase institutional open access funds that could be used to support other types of open research initiatives.

What is the consequence of not engaging with transitional agreements?

Jisc aims to negotiate agreements that permit all institutions to participate, hence affordability is a critical requirement of a transitional agreement, and so we would encourage institutions to participate if they are able, in order to take advantage of the many benefits outlined above.

Not joining some transitional agreements may well mean funded authors can no longer comply with their funder’s open access requirements if they still choose to publish in a hybrid journal, which can lead to sanctions.

Many publishers offer alternative compliance options, such as via green open access, or you may want to consider.

Communicating with researchers

The amount of information researchers want about transitional agreements (TAs) will vary. We’ve summarised six key messages about transitional agreements to support the creation of guidance material or presentations for researchers.

Institutions may want to provide researchers with title lists of the journals included in transitional agreements. See guidance below on how to get title lists from KB+.

Key messages

Transitional agreements will increase the proportion of UK research published as open access

  • Transitional agreements aim to enable 100% of research by eligible authors to be published as open access
  • Transitional agreements may provide uncapped open access publishing from the outset or increase the threshold each year until it reaches 100%
  • Prior to transitional agreements the level of research published as open access typically depended on several factors, including the availability of funding for APCs or publishers permitting deposit of a version of a manuscript in a repository

Transitional agreements enable funder compliance

  • Transitional agreements are examples of the ‘transformative arrangements’ referred to in the Plan S implementation guidance
  • Transitional agreements include subscription (hybrid) journals
  • Funder open access policies based on Plan S principles don’t support publishing in hybrid journals unless the journal is part of a transitional agreement or allows compliant Green OA

There are various models of transitional agreements

  • One size (model) doesn’t fit all publishers or institutions - see descriptions of current models on our publisher information webpage
  • Factors such as the number of UK subscriptions and the volume of UK publishing or the business model of the publisher (eg journal content is invited review articles) are considered when transitional agreements are developed
  • Some transitional agreements cap the number of articles that can be published as gold open access each year so the options available to researchers may change during each year of an agreement

Transitional agreements increase efficiencies

  • Publisher submission systems guide authors to transitional agreements they are eligible for
  • Transitional agreements reduce the number of individual APC payments
  • Publishers do not delay publishing papers as gold open access within transitional agreements

Transitional agreements are one of the mechanisms supporting the transformation of scholarly communication

  • Researchers concerned that Plan S would affect their choice of where to publish can be reassured that publishing in subscription (hybrid) journals within transitional agreements is permissible
  • Plan S signatories have committed to supporting transitional agreements financially until 31 December 2024 – during the Plan S transition period the sector can define models for the future shape of scholarly communication in alignment with commitments to DORA
  • Jisc has established a transitional agreement oversight group to monitor the effectiveness of transitional agreements and publishers’ longer-term open access plans 

Transitional agreements reduce costs and potential additional costs including spend ‘in the wild’

  • Transitional agreements consolidate payments for access to paywalled content and open access publishing into a single participation fee
  • Jisc’s 2017 analysis showed that achieving 100% gold open access based on average APC payments would have cost the UK approximately £340m, around twice the amount spent on journal subscriptions in the UK

Journal lists

You can find title lists for all Jisc transitional agreements on the Knowledge Base+ public export page. Use the search function to find a specific transitional agreement package.

Please note: package names are in the format “Publisher:Consortium:Agreement name (list type).

For transitional agreements, there may be several list types:

  • Reading list – your users will have access to this content
  • Publishing list – your eligible authors can publish in these journals under the agreement
  • Open access –depending on the agreement, payment of APCs may be required to publish in these gold open access journals

The title list can be viewed on the public export page and downloaded in various formats. KBART II or KBPlus(CSV) can both be opened in spreadsheet software, eg Microsoft Excel. You can also link directly to package pages, for example, see this dummy export test example.

Assessing transitional agreement proposals

Negotiating proposals

In our negotiations we seek proposals that meet our requirements for transitional agreements or our requirements for open access publishers.

Pricing for open access publishing is typically based on previous APC expenditure. We request that publishers remove ‘In the wild’ APCs before calculating prices.

Definition – ‘In the wild’: ‘In the wild’ refers to APCs that aren’t paid from centrally managed open access funds (i.e., block grants from UKRI or Wellcome, or institutional open access budgets). They’re usually paid from ad-hoc departmental budgets, research grants or personal funds and may be paid without reference to funder policy criteria which are applied by central open access fund approvers.

We use a checklist template to record suitability.

Consulting on proposals

When we receive a proposal from a publisher that fulfils our criteria, we consult with members on its acceptability. Consultation packs typically include an ‘at a glance’ summary, proposal outline, data, and a survey link and questions.

We send consultation packs to primary and secondary ejournal contacts and open access contacts listed in license subscriptions manager and ask for feedback within 4-6 weeks.

Assessing proposals

When you receive the proposal, you’ll want to assess its suitability for your institution as well as evaluating its performance against other agreements to inform your feedback and decision on signing up. There are several ways to do this.

Case study: University of Liverpool

Who’s involved?

At the University of Liverpool, five staff from two directorates, collections, content and discovery (CCD) and open research, work together on transitional agreement (TA) proposals.

The group comprises the associate director for CCD, digital library services lead, head of open research, subscriptions manager (SM) and the scholarly communication librarian (SCL). As well as assessing proposals this group can make decisions about signing up to smaller value agreements (no set value, this is at the discretion of the group), and these decisions are made in monthly meetings. For larger value ‘big deal’ agreements, decisions are made by a wider group which includes the CCD/open research group, the library’s deputy director and faculty librarians.

Assessing publisher offers has long been a core function of CCD but this has been an additional task for the scholarly communication Librarian (SCL) to take on. It was important for the teams to design a process for working with transitional agreements as quickly as possible because of the rapid increase in proposals for CCD staff to assess, which also required the SCL to dedicate more of her time to gold open access (OA) administrative tasks.


To make the assessment process as efficient as possible the teams developed a set of principles which outline criteria for different proposal types and an alternative to budget management (pdf). This draft document is awaiting sign-off at senior level but the teams can refer to it as needed.

The teams have developed two workflows: one for assessing new proposals (pdf) during the negotiation and the other for evaluating new agreements (pdf) that are available to sign up to. They use an evaluation form they created (pdf) to capture the key information and considerations that inform recommendations to senior colleagues. End to end, the process for assessing most proposals is estimated to take approximately 5.5 staff hours and the process for evaluating new agreements takes approximately 8.5 staff hours.

The teams involved in this work aren’t co-located but have established effective communication channels. The CCD/open research Group have monthly meetings, plus extra as needed. Microsoft Teams is used for other discussions and to share APC data and subscriptions data.

The SM is responsible for sharing consultation documents with colleagues but responses to consultation surveys are sent jointly by the SM and the head of open research.


The SM and the SCL both agreed that ‘the data takes most time”. This is partly due to the volume of data to be gathered and checked (Liverpool spend £5m on subscriptions and approximately £1m on APCs each year) but this challenge also highlights the need for a certain level of data analysis skills in the staff involved in this work. Standardised data from publishers, which Jisc is seeking, will simplify the checks that need to be carried out.

The SM and SCL noted the potential for tension in discussions between supporting teaching demands on one hand and the principles of open research on the other and highlighted the value of Liverpool’s principles document in providing balance in discussions and decision-making.

Next steps

The process in place is working smoothly for all involved but Liverpool see benefits in restructuring budgets to simplify decision making and open access fund management. Further discussions are needed to determine whether this is practically possible.

Investment per article (IPA)

Use this methodology to model cost scenarios and determine if the agreement will be cost-effective, sustainable and affordable for your institution.

The IPA is a metric and benchmark used by Jisc and other consortia to evaluate the value delivered under transitional agreements by arriving at a per article value for open access publishing and reading. It can also be used at an institutional level to determine if an agreement will provide value for money.

IPA = total spend ÷ estimated number of articles published

As this approach models cost scenarios the number of articles published will be an estimate of the number of articles you think your institution will publish under this agreement.

Cost per download

Cost per download is the traditional metric used to assess the value of a subscription agreement.

Cost per download = total subscription spend ÷ subscribed usage

‘Subscribed usage’ is available from JUSP. Under Counter Release 4 it can be found using JR1 – JR1GOA. Under Counter Release 5 the ‘Total item requests (Controlled use only, excluding OA Gold)’ can be used for subscribed usage but COUNTER R5 ‘Unique item requests’ provides a more accurate metric for calculating usage and cost per usage.

Please note: the traditional method of calculating cost per download will become less meaningful as transitional agreements are adopted. Methodologies that reflect the dual nature of transitional agreements and still allow evaluation of agreements in a quantitative way will be more useful.

Cost avoidance and offsetting

Calculating cost avoidance of APCs in agreements with a publish fee and a read fee is one way to assess savings.

Cost avoidance = publish fee — total value of articles published under the agreement

Calculate the value of APCs for articles published under the agreement by multiplying the number of articles published by the list price or negotiated APC. If the total value of articles published is higher than the publish fee you have paid, you have ‘offset’ your APC expenditure and the monetary value can be seen in terms of cost avoidance.

Adjusted cost per download

Cost per download can still be helpful for evaluating agreements including a ‘read’ element. Calculating an adjusted CPD can determine the value derived from the publish element of the agreement.

Adjusted cost per download = (read fee — cost avoidance) ÷ usage

This method offsets the savings from the publishing fee against the read fee, to find the actual read fee. Dividing this figure by the usage data from JUSP gives the accurate or adjusted cost per download.

For example, University Y avoided​ €224,840 in APCs in 2019. Deducting this saving from their read fee of €293,771 gave them an actual read fee of €68,931. By dividing this by their usage in 2019 we get a cost per download of 40p.

Other measures

Other ways to measure or demonstrate the value of an agreement to your institution include:

  • Inter-library loans (ILL) – Some transitional agreements may include access to the full collection at no extra cost. You may see savings on ILL requests and staff time as well as being able to evidence an increase in immediate fulfilment of your users’ needs.
  • Citations and altmetrics - open content is reported to have increased usage, monitoring downloads, altmetrics and citations will provide useful insights on the geographical reach of articles as well as interest from professions and policy makers. This evidence may be useful in tracking the societal impact of research.

NB. These measures are best suited to evaluating the performance of an agreement as it is approaching the end of its term. This analysis should help you to determine if the new agreement may be of value to your institution.

Finalising agreements

Feedback on proposals informs our responses to publishers in the next stage of negotiations and we provide subscribers with a summary of survey feedback and publisher responses.

Once the terms of the agreement are reached, we create a product page in licence subscriptions manager. This includes a summary overview of the agreement and order options as well as the offer document and licence.

At this stage of negotiations, we work with publishers and some of our members, including the RLUK OAPP Group, to agree author-facing communication about agreements provided by the publisher.

Going live

In line with OA2020 principles we register agreements that meet our open access requirements in the ESAC registry. This is a vital step to ensure that agreements are visualised in the Plan S Journal Checker Tool.

At this stage, publishers work directly with subscribers on set up and implementation but our helpdesk and licensing managers are also available to provide support.

Managing open access publishing in transitional agreements

Read and publish (R&P) agreements seek to transition spend from paying for paywalled/subscription access to pay for reading and open access (OA) publishing services. Some agreements offer unlimited ‘read and publish’ in all hybrid and open access journals (for example, the American Physiological Society Journals offer) whereas others offer a capped number of open access articles in subscription journals (eg Springer Compact) or, in the case of the Wiley read and publish agreement, a fund that is drawn down from on a first come, first served basis covering Wiley’s entire portfolio.

One of the main benefits of R&P agreements is that they provide frictionless publishing and compliance with funder mandates at no cost to the author. Consortium transitional agreements (of which transformative agreements are one type) have also expanded publishing opportunities across different types of institutions; for example, as of October 2020, 122 institutions published at least one article in the Wiley read and publish agreement.

Institutions’ decisions on which articles and authors can publish under an agreement impact both on immediate and future value for money in these agreements. For this reason, Jisc and the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes Group recommend that all institutions participating in an agreement adopt a consistent approach to implementing agreements. This is especially crucial where an agreement involves a capped number of open access articles or a finite amount of open access funding at consortium level.

Here we lay out three key principles for approving articles in transitional agreements:

1. Most read and publish agreements will restrict open access publishing to review and original research articles

Excluded article types will normally include book reviews, abstracts, case reports, commentaries, short communications, technical notes, letters to the editor, research news and conference papers. These article types are not normally included in cost calculations for transformative agreements and approving them under agreements would risk setting a precedent for paying for them.

It is expected that all institutions will apply this principle when approving articles, but in most cases, it will be incorporated into the approval workflow automatically.

Things to note

Definitions of research and review articles can differ between journals, even those managed by the same publisher. You may need to make a judgement and work with the publisher regarding queries surrounding article types, particularly if the work is cOAlition S funded.

Agreements including fully open access journals may feature different approval workflows for hybrid and fully open access journals. Articles in hybrid journals will typically be approved after acceptance but articles in fully open access journals may require approval, and use of publishing funds, at submission. This may mean that articles that are subsequently rejected for publication will release funds to be used for other articles. While complicated, in capped agreements this workflow avoids the risk that after acceptance the author is required to pay because there is no funding remaining in the agreement.

Why restrict to original research and review?

Funders' policies usually focus on original research and review articles. Where agreements feature a consortium cap, value for money depends on using finite article funds to best advantage for the whole consortium. Restricting eligibility to research and review articles only achieves the greatest openness for UK research as a whole.

2. Use of transformative agreements will be restricted to corresponding authors with a contract of employment at the relevant (subscribing) institution

While an agreement may include a definition of eligible authors, the variety of author types that may be affiliated with participating institutions requires institutions to adopt an agreed approach to who may use the agreement.

For example, “Eligible Author” in the Springer Compact agreement is defined very broadly:

“Eligible Authors” means authors (i) who are “Affiliated” with Institution, ie who are students enrolled at or accredited to Institution or who are teaching and research staff employed by or otherwise accredited to the Institution, whereby in case of articles published by multiple authors only the corresponding author may qualify as an Affiliated Author; (ii) who have signed one of the then-current open access publishing agreements used at the Publisher to publish an article under an Open Access Licence in one of the Publisher’s Open Choice Journals the current list of which (subject to change by the Publisher) is attached in Attachment 1 (“Open Choice Journals”); and (iii) for whom Institution has confirmed the status as Affiliated Author pursuant to Section 3.2.4 (“Affiliated Author Approval Date”).

For the avoidance of doubt, it is the sole responsibility of the Institution to verify if an author is an Affiliated Author. If the Institution confirmed the affiliation of an author with respect to an article, this author shall be deemed an Affiliated Author.

Institutions are expected to use best efforts to identify the corresponding author’s status and not to approve articles unless the author is understood to have a contract of employment with the institution. Papers with corresponding authors who are honorary, visiting or NHS members of staff without a contract of employment at the relevant institution will not normally be eligible to use an agreement.

Since UK funders have contributed to these agreements, institutions may wish to make limited exceptions to this rule, where the publisher workflow allows, where a paper is funded by Wellcome Trust, UKRI or a former COAF funder and the corresponding author is not employed by an institution that participates in the agreement.

Discretion is advised in these cases. Jisc recognises the tension between grant funds - which are calculated on “staff power" in research grants - and corresponding authorship, but members of the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes Group advise that in practice this distinction is not normally a cause for concern. Depending on the publisher's workflow, it may be possible to arrange for papers to use the agreement where a co-author with a relevant grant (as principal investigator) is based at the approving institution. A participating institution may consider this appropriate where it has used a funder's block grant to fund the agreement. However, in many cases the corresponding author will be employed at a participating institution, and this route should always be preferred. If it is not appropriate or possible to approve a paper by a co-author, the funder may allow payment by invoice, on the basis that the agreement covers most other articles; and the paper will be eligible to use the Rights Retention Strategy.

Why restrict publishing in a transitional agreement to corresponding authors employed at the institution?

Unlike first/last author status, the assumption that the corresponding author (CA) is primarily responsible for the work is reasonably consistent across different disciplines and agreements.

The number of articles covered under an agreement (and occasionally the price) is usually set by establishing the total number of research and review articles published by CAs employed by eligible institutions. Understanding the number of CAs an agreement is likely to cover is a critical part of how Jisc, along with other consortia and institutions, “size” and compare agreements, their possible costs, and numbers of outputs covered. Papers with a CA who is an honorary member of staff, visitor, or otherwise affiliated with linked organisations (eg NHS trusts) should not normally be approved as eligible to use these agreements.

To do so may risk exhausting the available funds in the agreement. It could also commit institutions to funding this type of paper in the longer term. An exception may be made where the paper is funded by a relevant grant (see footnote 1) or where authors employed at the institution have made an extremely significant contribution to the paper.

It is important that an article is not paid for twice through two different transitional agreements. For example, without the CA rule an article could be covered and paid for by Projekt DEAL, and also by a UK institution owing to relevant funding. As the number of transitional agreements increases internationally, the risk of this scenario rises. Having the CA as a common denominator for approval prevents this.

Agreements are liable to influence which author is chosen as the CA on a paper. This is particularly relevant in institutions that publish a high volume of papers with international CAs. Choice of corresponding authorship is at the discretion of the authors. However, institutions should be aware that there is a small risk of academics assuming the role of CA either duplicitously or as a result of coercion.

Institutional open access managers are not expected to monitor this actively. However, where any such activity comes to their attention they should remind the authors that the CA must be an intellectual contributor to the research output and able to identify and defend their contribution, and that an individual’s contribution should not be overstated in exchange for open access publishing under an agreement. This type of activity risks both the financial and reputational value of transformative agreements. Read COPE's authorship discussion document for more information on ethics in publishing.

3. Article approval turnaround - institutions must approve/deny articles within two weeks of an open access funding/approval request from the relevant publisher

Articles may only comply with the REF open access policy if they are made open access at the point of first publication (section 239, REF guidance on submissions (pdf)). Value for money in transformative agreements depends on articles being made open access as soon as they are published.

In most cases, a time limit on article approval will be incorporated into the publisher’s approval workflow. In any event, institutions are expected to respond to an approval request as soon as possible, and no later than two weeks of the request. This will enable Jisc, and institutions, to measure use of the agreement effectively, ensure maximum value for money through immediate open access, and achieve compliance with funder policies.

Discretion is advised in these cases. Jisc recognises the tension between grant funds - which are calculated on “staff power" in research grants - and corresponding authorship, but members of the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes Group advise that in practice this distinction is not normally a cause for concern.

Depending on the publisher's workflow, it may be possible to arrange for papers to use the agreement where a co-author with a relevant grant (as principal investigator) is based at the approving institution. A participating institution may consider this appropriate where it has used a funder's block grant to fund the agreement. However, in many cases the corresponding author will be employed at a participating institution, and this route should always be preferred.

If it is not appropriate or possible to approve a paper by a co-author, the funder may allow payment by invoice, on the basis that the agreement covers most other articles; and the paper will be eligible to use the Rights Retention Strategy.

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).