Memorandum from the University of Sheffield
1.1 I very much welcome the Committee's
inquiry. As a research-led university, operating in an increasingly
knowledge-based global economy, the effective operation of the
scholarly communication process is a fundamental concern. Along
with my fellow Russell Group Vice-Chancellors, I have an increasing
sense that the current economic model for the publication of research
output in the science, technology and medical (STM) area is unsustainable.
I believe that this inquiry will help to explore some of the shortcomings
of this model, and will facilitate the adoption of new approaches
that may better serve the UK's researchers.
2. CURL AND SCONUL
2.1 Evidence is being submitted to the Committee
by the Consortium of University and Research Libraries (CURL)
and the Society of College, National and University Libraries
(SCONUL); the University of Sheffield is a member of both organisations.
I have seen their draft submission, and concur broadly with the
observations and recommendations they make.
2.2 The University of Sheffield, as a member
of the White Rose Consortium along with the Universities of Leeds
and York, is committed to the development of author self-archiving
through participation in the SHERPA project. Funded by JISC, this
project aims to establish openly accessible institutional digital
repositories of research output in a number of research universities.
2.3 In this submission, I will emphasize
the impact of the current STM publication model on the University
of Sheffield, and those respects in which our viewpoint may add
something to the evidence presented by the professional library
community. I have set out my comments under the headings suggested
in the call for evidence.
3. WHAT IMPACT
3.1 The price inflation in science technology
and medicine (STM) journal subscriptions is well documented. The
impact on this university has included:
A reduction in the number of print
subscriptions (from 5,051 in 1992-93 to 3,439 in 2001-02), although
this trend has been obscured by the tendency for to substitute
less expensive subscriptions, and by the recent growth in the
number of titles now available in electronic form through big
deals. It is also the case that, like many university libraries,
mine has elected in the last couple of years to receive increasing
numbers of titles in electronic-only format.
A squeeze on the book-purchasing
budget, so that the proportion of my university library's collections
budget spent on books has declined from 45% in 1992-93 to 24%
in 2002-03. This has an adverse effect on humanities and social
sciences research in particular, and on provision of student textbooks.
The big deal
3.2 It is important to note that the challenges
posed by the current model of STM publication are to a large extent
independent of the format of publication, although the advent
of electronic access to existing titles has made it possible for
publishers to offer "big deals" at little additional
cost to themselves.
3.3 The CURL/SCONUL evidence sets out clearly
the advantages and drawbacks of big deals. However, I make the
following additional points:
during the last few years, the value for money offered
by most (not all) of the big deals has been good. With a relatively
low level of entry expenditure into the deals, the unit cost per
downloaded paper has been rather lower for this university than
it has for some other Russell Group members. The big deal has
thus enabled us to grow rapidly the overall range of titles accessible
to our researchers and students in full-text electronic form.
while it is true that big deals include many titles
of little or no interest to individual institutions, the level
of use of many previously-unsubscribed titles included in bid
deals has been surprisingly high, both for us and for other universities.
This suggests that the level of accuracy of our earlier title-by-title
journal selection techniques has not been as high as we might
in addition to providing rapid growth in the availability
of research publications for academic staff and researchers, big
deals have also meant that more electronic content can be linked
directly to our e-learning environment. Research-led teaching
and learning is a core part of this University's mission, and
we encourage undergraduates to use the research literature as
part of their studies.
3.4 None of these points offsets our collective
viewexpressed by CURL and SCONUL -that the current model
is unsustainable in the longer term. They show that, unsurprisinglythe
costs and benefits of the big deals have differed for different
institutions; and that purchasing access to the literature on
a title-by-title has not been an efficient way of providing for
our researchers' needs.
4. WHAT ACTION
4.1 Although the word "monopoly"
is often used in connection with academic publishing, from the
academic perspective the scientific publication business does
not operate in a conventional marketplace. Authors receive no
income from the publication of their research output in the STM
literature, and publishers' have a monopoly position only in respect
of the publication of specific journal titles, rather than of
the marketplace as a whole. Authors' decisions to target particular
journals for publication purposes are driven primarily by journals'
reputations and impact factors, and are insensitive to purchase
4.2 While it may be undesirable for mergers
and acquisitions to reduce the number of commercial STM publishers,
regulation at this level will not itself achieve the fundamental
change in the business model that is required in order to increase
access to the knowledge base of published research.
4.3 There is a growing feeling in the academic
community that it is the concept of payment for access, through
subscriptions, that is responsible for the unsustainability of
the current business model. Commercial publishers do add value
to the process of research publication; however, given the ease
of electronic access, this added value is primarily associated
with the organisation and management of the peer review and editorial
processes. There are continuing business opportunities here for
commercial publishers; payment for submission and peer review,
rather than for access, may prove a better long-term model. It
may also offer something closer to a conventional market, in which
authors will take submission price into account along with impact
factors, when deciding where to publish, and publishers can compete
on a level playing field.
4.4 However, the transition from the existing
business model to a new one will not be easy to achieve. I therefore
endorse the CURL/SCONUL view that there is a role for the Research
Councils in actively supporting the publication of award-holders'
research in journals that allow author self-archiving, or which
are published on an open-access basis, including the funding of
the submission costs for open-access publications.
4.5 I noted above the global nature both
of research and of the STM publishing industry. I would urge the
Government to support, or indeed lead, international action in
this area, working with our EU partners and with other international
agencies such as QEOD, whose Committee for Science and Technological
Policy at Ministerial Level, in a communique dated 30 January
2004, states: "Ministers recognised that fostering broader,
open access to and wide use of research data will enhance the
quality and productivity of science systems worldwide." 
5. WHAT ARE
5.1 In theory, there is no reason why a
change in the economic model of STM publication should impact
on the operation of the RAE or other research quality assessment
methodologies. Peer review remains central to the scholarly publication
process in STM, as in other discipline areas, and none of the
alternative approaches to the existing economic model is proposing
to weaken it.
5.2 In practice, there is considerable conservatism
among academic communities in relation to the choice of journal
for publication of research papers, reinforced by the use of crude
bibliometrics such as citation impact. It will be important in
the next research assessment exercise that RQA panel members do
not discriminate against publication in refereed open-access journals
in reaching conclusions about the quality of published research.
6. HOW EFFECTIVELY
6.1 The primary mechanism for making non-print
scientific publications available to the research community is
the purchase of licences from publishers by institutions for access
to electronic journals.
6.2 However, development of a robust national
archive of the journal literature, in digital and print form,
is essential if individual universities are to reap the full benefits
of full-text electronic access to journals and to electronic author
archives. This is potentially a key role for the British Library,
and it is crucial that the BL is funded by Government to enable
it to take on this role fully. Close partnership between the BL
and the HE sector is fundamental to the future of scholarly communication
in the UK.
7. WHAT IMPACT
7.1 By ensuring that robust peer review
remains at the heart of the scholarly communications system, the
risk of scientific fraud (and plagiarism) should not be significantly
increased by moves towards author self-archiving and refereed
open-access journals. Detection of plagiarism may in fact be facilitated
by easier access to the research literature in electronic form.
104 Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st
Century. Meeting of the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological
Policy at Ministerial Level, 29-30 January 2004-Final Communique. Back