How to save on journals

May 9, 1997

SITE licence schemes can save universities up to Pounds 30,000 a year on journal subscriptions and bring academic papers to a wider audience, a pilot project has found.

Initial results from the UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative, run by all the United Kingdom funding bodies and four selected publishers, show it has prompted most higher education institutions in the UK to use more journals than before and in different formats.

Under the three-year scheme, the Higher Education Funding Council for England provides publishers with a lump sum in return for a site licence for each institution. This allows every member of the institution unlimited access and photocopying rights for an agreed set of journals in paper and electronic form. Publishers also offer a discount on paper copies of the journals.

The scheme was set up to relieve pressure on libraries faced with a growing number of academic journals, which were increasingly expensive, and cuts in government grants. This meant libraries were able to buy fewer journals, which had disadvantages for both academics and publishers.

Copyright laws also limited how institutions disseminated academic texts, while pressure grew for them to make the most of electronic information systems.

The PSLI scheme, the first of its kind, involves IOP Publishing, Academic Press, Blackwell Publishers and Blackwell Science. Each has made a slightly different arrangement with the HEFCE.

Overall, funding councils have spent Pounds 2.36 million on the pilot scheme in its first year, top-sliced from the Government grant.

Institutions are making savings in journal subscriptions of Pounds 11,824 per year on average and some larger universities have saved more than Pounds 30,000, which they have been able to spend on other academic journals.

But problems still remain, especially over VAT and copyright.

The European Union's emphasis on common standards in all European countries could lead to VAT being imposed on printed books and journals, while increased use of electronic journals, where VAT is already levied, already means extra costs for institutions.

EU harmonisation will also have to be taken into account in laws over copyright, if site licences extend abroad.

Competition and anti-trust laws in other European countries and the United States could make extension of the PSLI illegal.

A review of the pilot recommends further consultation with a view to setting up a "Mark II" version in June next year.

This would involve a series of national site licences and possibly "group" site licences for institutions with common interests. It proposes external "scheme managers" so that the funding bodies could withdraw from the project.

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