Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 31

Memorandum from the University of Sheffield

1.  INTRODUCTION

  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 EVIDENCE TO THE COMMITTEE

  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 DO PUBLISHERS' CURRENT POLICIES ON PRICING AND PROVISION OF SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS, PARTICULARLY "BIG DEAL SCHEMES", HAVE ON LIBRARIES AND THE TEACHING AND RESEARCH COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE?

Price inflation

  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:

    (i) 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.

    (ii) 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 have liked.

    (iii) 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 view—expressed by CURL and SCONUL -that the current model is unsustainable in the longer term. They show that, unsurprisingly—the 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 SHOULD GOVERNMENT, ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS AND PUBLISHERS BE TAKING TO PROMOTE A COMPETITIVE MARKET IN SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS?

  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 price.

  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." [104]

5.  WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF OPEN-ACCESS JOURNALS, FOR EXAMPLE FOR THE OPERATION OF THE RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE AND OTHER SELECTION PROCESSES? SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT SUCH A TREND AND, IF SO, HOW?

  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 ARE THE LEGAL DEPOSIT LIBRARIES MAKING AVAILABLE NON-PRINT SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY AND WHAT STEPS SHOULD THEY BE TAKING IN THIS RESPECT?

  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 WILL TRENDS IN ACADEMIC JOURNAL PUBLISHING HAVE ON THE RISK OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD AND MALPRACTICE?

  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.

February 2004




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


 
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