Harvard backs open access in face of ‘prohibitive’ journal costs

A committee of senior Harvard academics has urged the university’s staff to publish in open access journals amid concern that the cost of journal subscriptions is becoming “untenable”.

April 28, 2012

In an email sent to all Harvard faculty members last week, Harvard’s Faculty Advisory Council to the Library complains that “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”.

Specific publishers are not mentioned by name, but those the committee has in mind are likely to include Elsevier, which attracted criticism earlier this year by initially backing a US bill that would have outlawed open access mandates. More than 10,000 academics have since pledged to boycott the company.

“Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35 per cent and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles,” the council’s email says.

The value of Harvard’s endowment is currently around $32 billion (£19.7 billion). But, in consultation with senior librarians, the committee has concluded that contracts with “at least two major providers” cannot be renewed “on the basis identical with past agreements” since costs are now “prohibitive”.

The email invites faculty to comment on the feasibility of various options, including submitting articles to open-access journals, or to “ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs”. The council hopes this will “move prestige” to open access journals.

Harvard faculty on the editorial board of journals published by the offending companies are also urged to investigate whether they can be made open access or published independently. If not, they should consider resigning, the email says.

Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London and an open access advocate, says on his blog: “If one of the most prestigious and richest institutions in the world cannot afford its journal subscriptions, then there is a serious problem in academic publishing.”

A government-convened committee chaired by Dame Janet Finch, a former vice-chancellor of Keele University, is currently considering the feasibility of the UK moving to open access. It is expected to report next month.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry