Open access transitional agreements ‘risk becoming the norm’

Jisc review finds UK ahead of global average on open access, but questions whether purportedly temporary measures are proving effective at driving change

March 8, 2024

The UK is adapting to open access faster than the global average, but transitional agreements intended to be temporary are at risk of becoming the norm, leaving too much crucial research trapped behind paywalls, according to a Jisc review.

The UK sector’s technology body has published its review of transitional agreements (TAs), charting the progress of open access and billed as one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind.

“TAs enabled the UK to achieve an exceptionally high level of compliance with funder OA policies – over 93 per cent of [UK Research and Innovation]-funded articles have a compliant route available to them and, of these, 63 per cent can be compliant through a Jisc-negotiated TA,” it says.

As an early adopter of TAs, the UK appears to be transitioning to open access more effectively than the global average, the review finds. In 2022, the number of UK open access articles was 4 percentage points higher than the global average (UK 50 per cent; global 46 per cent).

TAs were envisaged as a temporary mechanism to support a transition to full open access, setting out to constrain costs for institutions and drive rapid growth of open access at a UK and global level, the report observes.

It refers to “an erosion in confidence that TAs will achieve a transition within an acceptable timescale”.

“Stakeholders are concerned that without transparency and commitments from publishers, TAs will simply become the norm,” the report continues. “Given the level of public funds being invested in TAs, and the continual reliance on the UKRI block grant, it is appropriate to review the data and consider if what was considered a temporary investment is efficiently and effectively achieving a transition to OA.”

Stephen Decent, principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, and chair of the Jisc UUK content negotiation strategy group, which oversees negotiations with academic publishers on behalf of the UK’s higher education sector, said: “Despite significant sector-wide investment, the transition from the paywall system to full open access remains elusive. It’s clear that our open research scholarship objectives are out of step with many publishers’ commercial strategies.

“Researcher engagement with alternative dissemination channels is integral to a more inclusive and open research culture where all contributions are open, valued and available for others, regardless of the author’s location or ability to pay.

“Jisc’s review provides a timely prompt for the discussion that we hope will allow the UK research community to achieve its open research goals.”

Liam Earney, managing director for higher education and research at Jisc, said: “The review is a vital piece of work and provides the sector with both an evidence base and the opportunity to take stock. It demonstrates how successful transitional agreements have been at constraining spend and making funded research openly available on publication at speed and at scale.

“However, it indicates that transitional agreements will not deliver on a full transition from paywalls fast enough: eight years after we negotiated the first UK transitional agreement, we encourage the sector to engage with the findings and shape the future of open research dissemination.”

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