Jisc review of UK open access and transitional agreements finds positives, but that a full transition is not in sight

New report finds that despite improvements – rapid growth in transitional agreements, sector savings and high levels of funder compliance – a full transition to open access will not happen soon.

Jisc has undertaken a review of transitional agreements in the UK that charts the progress of open access (OA) and evaluates the effectiveness of transitional agreements (TAs) in that process.

One of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, the review provides an important and timely evidence base for institutions, research funders, researchers, publishers and consortia to inform collective decision-making and planning.

The review found savings were being made through sector-wide negotiations and showed the UK has achieved exceptional levels of funder compliance during a period when there were few alternative immediate routes to open access.

As an early adopter of transitional agreements, the UK appears to be transitioning to open access more effectively than the global average. In 2022, the number of UK open access articles was 4% higher than the global average (UK: 50%; global 46%).

Transitional agreements were envisioned as a temporary mechanism to support a transition to full open access. They set out to constrain costs for institutions and drive rapid growth of open access at a UK and global level.

However, the review suggests they are at risk of becoming the ‘norm’ and that the rate of transition is too slow.

The full report asks the following questions:

  • What proportion of scholarly literature is open access?
  • What impact have transitional agreements had on open access to global and UK research publications?
  • What effect have transitional agreements had on costs for UK institutions?
  • How far have transitional agreements facilitated author compliance with funder requirements?
  • Do transitional agreements deliver on their promise of being temporary and transitional?

Professor Stephen Decent is principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, and chair of the Jisc UUK Content Negotiation Strategy Group, which oversees negotiations with academic publishers on behalf of the UK's higher education sector. He said:

“Despite significant sector-wide investment, the transition from the paywall system to full open access remains elusive. It’s clear that our open research scholarship objectives are out of step with many publishers’ commercial strategies.

“Researcher engagement with alternative dissemination channels is integral to a more inclusive and open research culture where all contributions are open, valued, and available for others, regardless of the author’s location or ability to pay.

“Jisc’s review provides a timely prompt for the discussion that we hope will allow the UK research community to achieve its open research goals.”

Liam Earney, managing director for HE and research at Jisc, said:

“The review is a vital piece of work and provides the sector with both an evidence base and the opportunity to take stock. It demonstrates how successful transitional agreements have been at constraining spend and making funded research openly available on publication at speed and at scale.

“However, it indicates that transitional agreements will not deliver on a full transition from paywalls fast enough: eight years after we negotiated the first UK transitional agreement, we encourage the sector to engage with the findings and shape the future of open research dissemination.”

Jisc’s review of TA agreements was carried out with its strategic groups. Jisc has negotiated or renewed 47 TA agreements to date.

Read the full review of transitional agreements in the UK report and find out more about our role in open access.