University of California Moves Toward Open Access Research

Dec 4, 2019

Credit UC Riverside

The University of California has changed the way students access research. It’s now moving towards a system of open access to research for everybody – but that’s causing a bit of disruption in the industry.

Earlier this year, the University of California split ways with Elsevier, a publishing company that took in research publications and then charged a fee to access them.

Tiffany Moxham is the Assistant University Librarian for Content and Discovery at UC Riverside.

She says negotiations with Elsevier broke down over the question of open access and rising costs of for-profit journals.

Moxham: “So with Elsevier essentially we went into negotiations to try and have some cost sustainability with the current large packaging that we have, while at the same time wanting to have basically 100 percent of UC output and articles be able to be published open access. And we weren't able to reach an agreement for that sort of combination of cost neutrality as well as open access to all. And thus the negotiations broke down earlier this year, and as such we only have access to articles, well a large percentage of articles up until December 2018 and then we've also lost access to articles published this year essentially, there's some nuances to that. We don't know at this point if we're going to be able to in the future reach a negotiation with them, but at this point we are instead providing alternative access to pretty much all of Elsevier articles through our series of document delivery systems and other alternative forms of accessing the content.”

Instead, the UC system is now using Cambridge University Press. The goal there is to give students as much access to research for free as possible.

Moxham: “So our current Cambridge University Press agreement is a 3-year agreement that is essentially designed as a pilot so that we can look at everything from how open access would work.”

But Moxham says it’s not just students who will benefit from this change.

Moxham: “The ultimate goal would be not just UC students but honestly pretty much anybody anywhere, that's the long-term goal of all of this, is that - again particularly publicly-funded research would be available to everybody worldwide to be able to have knowledge that progresses on each other, right. There's no point in 50 sets of people having to repeat the same terms and so forth. The idea of research is that your knowledge is gained from each other and everybody should be able to then utilize that knowledge in the real world.”

Dylan Rodriguez is a UCR professor and Academic Senate Chair. He describes the conflict between the UC system and Elsevier as a disagreement over how ideas and research should be accessed.

Rodriguez: “I would say that this is a fundamental confrontation between a corporation that is engaged in the commodification, capitalization of academic research knowledge and the idea of a public university where ideas and research freely flow for the good of research. Imagine if you had a wealth of articles that demonstrated advancements in a major scientific field, say in stem cell research, say in cancer research, and that stuff was locked behind the paywall that Elsevier is proposing to put up in the UC system. What that would mean is that not only would you have potentially prohibitive costs on public research universities that would undercut their ability to support their faculty, but it would also mean that critical research access for people that are working in the same field would at least be undermined, would at least be delayed. So this is really a kind of impasse between those who desire the open and free circulation of public knowledge and research knowledge, again largely - largely supported by public funding anyways, and a private corporation that wants to capitalize and commodify that knowledge, privatize it in essence.”

In an emailed statement, Elsevier’s Vice President of Communications Tom Reller said that the company supports open access publishing and are “the fastest growing gold open access publisher in the world and one of the leading open access publishers globally.”

The statement goes on to say that “a challenge we see in moving towards open access is that not everyone is moving in the same direction or at the same speed. We are delighted to have had very positive successes with many of our agreements this year incorporating an open access element, including in the US most recently with Carnegie Mellon, and look forward to others in the coming months.”