The University of Cambridge and Elsevier

The University of Cambridge and Elsevier

The contract between academic publisher Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

What will happen as that date approaches?

Corridor of shelves at the Moore Library with person consulting journal

The University of Cambridge subscribes to over 1,800 Elsevier ScienceDirect journals - a significant portion of the literature that our researchers engage with daily.

The University pays £1.3 million for the current subscription deal with Elsevier, enabling University members and users of our libraries to access Elsevier journals online.

Authors at the University also publish extensively in Elsevier journals. This incurs a separate cost - why?

Most major research funders mandate that grant-holders provide open access to the outputs of their research: authors are required to make their publications openly accessible by academic and non-academic audiences.

The University of Cambridge supports this endeavour. Our Open Research Position Statement places open access at the heart of the University's goal to "maximise access to knowledge in accordance with our mission to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence."

Likewise, this principle is central to the international Plan S initiative which requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

Many publishers impose article processing charges to make a publication open access in one of their journals.

Hands typing on laptop

An individual article can incur between £120 - £7,800 in Article Processing Charges when a Cambridge author publishes in an Elsevier journal.

Students using laptops in front of library shelves

Is there an alternative?

Publishers and research institutions are developing a range of new business models to find sustainable approaches to open access publishing.

The University of Cambridge has entered into 'transitional' open access agreements with many major publishers and Learned Societies on a read & publish model. Under these agreements, the publisher receives payment for providing access to their journal portfolio and payment for publishing, bundled into a single contract.

In this way, the University supports the wide dissemination of its research and scholarship at a sustainable cost - with the further benefit that the process of publishing open access in these journals is simpler for Cambridge authors.

Transitional agreements are supported by cOAlition S funders: they help to transform scholarly publishing towards the Plan S goal of achieving full and immediate open access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications from research funded by public and private grants.

There is currently no open access agreement in place with Elsevier, and open access fees are paid on an article-by-article basis where funding is available.

Despite publishing over 20% of UK output, Elsevier is unusual in not having established a transitional and Plan S-compliant open access agreement with UK universities.

Person looking closely at a laptop screen in a library workstation

The contract between Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

The UK Universities sector is entering negotiations with Elsevier with two core objectives: to reduce costs to levels UK universities can sustain, and to provide full and immediate open access to UK research.

The aim is to secure a read and publish agreement with Elsevier, converting subscription expenditure to support immediate open access publishing, and maintaining access to paywalled content for a reduced fee.

UK Universities agreed their priorities for the next Elsevier agreement in 2020 and began negotiations in March 2021. The negotiations are governed by two groups; the Universities UK content negotiation strategy group and the content expert group. Representatives from each group will sit on the official negotiation team and Jisc, the UK not-for-profit digital services provider for education and research, facilitates the overall negotiations.

Jisc has produced the following video to highlight the key issues.

To co-ordinate the University of Cambridge's contribution to this process, Cambridge University Libraries are working with representatives across all disciplines within the University's academic community via the Journals Coordination Scheme (JCS) Steering Group and the Open Research Steering Committee.

Senior leaders, including the JCS Chair and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, are closely engaged with these groups and with the University's response.

We are currently in an information and data gathering stage that will inform our institutional response to proposals and influence negotiations.

To support planning and analysis throughout the process we are keen to hear all voices, from across disciplines and roles, to ensure the University's decision is rooted in the interests of researchers at all levels.

Plans for a broad University consultation are being developed and notices about this will be circulated in due course. In addition, data about past usage of, and publishing in, Elsevier journals will help us to form a picture about the implications of any future proposed deals. 

You can stay up to date with developments on our webpages on University of Cambridge and Elsevier.

At this stage, we welcome feedback and expressions of interest from anyone wishing to participate in future events and engagement plans. 

You can contribute through this form or write to us at  

Four researchers engaged in discussion

Edited 23 June 2021 to clarify the role of Jisc in the negotiation process. Thanks to Jisc for the use of their materials. 

Text by Hannah Haines for the University of Cambridge, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 

All photos by Alice Boagey @AliceTheCamera