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The value of UK HEIs contribution to the publishing process

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Press Release: The value of UK HEIs contribution to the publishing process

Vice‐Chancellors from several leading UK universities have expressed concern that their universities are trapped in a cycle of rising costs as they participate in the scholarly communications process costs that help some large publishers make increasingly large profits. They have to deal at the same time with both an alarming increase in subscription costs for essential scholarly journals, and rising costs of peer review carried out by academics in their institutions. Publishers are using their power to impose price rises at a time when budgets are under increasing pressure, but do not seem to recognise one of the most important contributions that universities make to the process that publishers earn money from.

UK universities are a major participant in the publishing process. Not only do academics create content through writing articles, but UK academics spend between two and three million hours per year acting as reviewers for scholarly journals. Without this work, scientific communication would grind to a halt, and this unpaid commitment is rising: the number of papers being reviewed is going steadily upwards as journals increase in size and frequency of publication and new ones are launched.

Reviewing alone costs the UK university system between £110 million and £165 million every year a figure that itself is rising. Refereeing papers is an integral part of academics’ work, and universities continue to bear full responsibility for funding it.

UK university libraries spend around £110 million on their journal subscriptions as well. Even though budgets are tight, universities want to keep up the full range of resources they offer students and academics. Some publishers have recognised the problem and managed to keep their price increases for journal subscriptions low—or in some cases have not even sought an increase. Subscriptions to some of the leading journal collections, though, have risen by significantly more than inflation—and this is a trend that has been going on for several years. Subscriptions to the large journal collections involved can account for up to 80% of a university library’s journals budget, so prices rises have a major impact on education and research and can force out other, much needed, resources.

What universities would like to see is a genuine understanding by publishers that paying more at both ends (reviewing and subscribing) is causing real financial pain. Publishers could change their strategy of forcing price rises on universities and instead recognise the increases in the unpaid contribution universities make to the whole process through peer review: such restraint would show that they see universities as partners, rather than just a useful channel for converting taxpayers’ money (intended to fund education and research) into very high profits.


For interview: Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea BSc, PhD, FRSE , Principal and Vice‐Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh

Dr Hazel Woodward MBE, University Librarian and Director of Cranfield University Press University of Cranfield

For further information on the report and analysis:

Hugh Look, Consultant, futureglance

Lorraine Estelle, C.E.O, JISC Collections

Further information

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The value of UK HEIs contribution to the publishing process: Summary report
Hugh Look, Sue Sparks, Rightscom

Readers may also be interested in the recent Times Higher Education article 'Pay out then priced out:bid to rein in high journal costs'.