The cost of HEI publications is increasing by at least ten per cent per year. The annual cost is currently 500 million SEK.

“We want to reduce the cost of publication”

Svenska 2021-05-03

Hundred per cent open publication, lower costs and a transparent pricing model. That is SUHF’s goal for the agreements between Swedish HEIs and scientific publishers that are to replace those that terminate in 2024. A newly appointed inquiry will produce the strategy for achieving this.

Since a few years ago, Swedish researchers’ publications in scientific journals have been governed by ‘transformative agreements’ between higher education institutions (HEIs) and the publishers. This means that articles published by the researchers immediately become open for all to read. The cost of publishing articles is also included.

The fact that the agreements are transformative means that they are valid during a transfer period, until a new agreement has been entered into. Now, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) has appointed an inquiry team, tasked with developing a strategy for publications after 2024, when the last of the current agreements will terminate.

“We are worried that the publishers want to make the current agreements permanent, and we do not think they are advantageous for the HEIs in the long term. If we stay with what we have, we have to pay both to read and to publish articles, and there will be hybrids, where some articles are open and some are not. We want to see a change to how publication is funded,” says Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director at Stockholm University Library, who is part of the inquiry team.

New publication platforms

The task of the team – which will present its proposal no later than autumn 2023 – also includes investigating alternative ways of publishing articles, outside the commercial publishing companies. The European Commission and Wellcome Trust are, for example, currently developing publication platforms that are cheaper than publication via the traditional commercial companies.

“We have to develop a negotiating strategy and set out requirements that Swedish HEIs will make on the system, and also look at other publication models. The goal is 100 per cent open access to science, at a lower cost for us and with a transparent pricing model,” says Wilhelm Widmark.

The transformative agreements were introduced to drive transfer to publication where all articles published will be open for reading immediately. Another reason was to get better control over the cost of publication. Today, the costs to HEIs are around 500 million SEK per year – but they are rising.

“Today, costs are increasing by at least 10 per cent every year, and that is not sustainable. When we joined up publication and reading, costs increased, but we can now control them. Previously, when researchers paid for their own articles, the HEIs had no control.”

Most agreements have no ceiling

At the moment, HEIs have different agreements with each publisher.

They are based on combining the costs of reading and of publishing articles.  Most agreements relate to unlimited publication, but some have a ceiling for what can be published with open access. If you reach the ceiling, you can either stop publishing with open access, or contribute more money.

One of the companies that sets a ceiling for the number of publications is Wiley. Last year, Swedish HEIs reached the maximum number of open publications already in September, and the HEIs had to contribute extra funds for open access for the remainder of the year.

“We cannot foresee what the publication patterns will be like. Therefore, it is important to agree on unlimited publication.”

In 2020, the number of publications increased in general.

“We saw a clear bulge, a COVID bulge. It flattened towards the end of the year, and this year we have had a normal rate.”

Completed strategy 2023

After 2024, Plan S, which is an initiative by European research funding bodies to speed up the development towards open publication of research results, will no longer support hybrid journals with a mixture of open and locked articles.

Wilhelm Widmark thinks that it is important for Sweden to be prepared for this.

“We must have a strategy, so that we can influence what happens after 2024. If we don’t act, we will be at a disadvantage in the negotiations.”

In 2023, the inquiry team – which includes researchers, representatives from various HEIs and funding bodies, as well as negotiators – will table a strategy. The intention is that the work to reach this point will be open, in discussion with HEI managements, researchers and other stakeholders.

Advantage in negotiations

The strategy will then be used in negotiations, but the team wants to start preliminary negotiations with a couple of publishers already this autumn.

“We want to emphasise that this work is in progress, to see what their strategies are, and to work out at an early stage whether we can have joint goals. We must have a strategy that is anchored in reality,” says Wilhelm Widmark.

He thinks that the most important thing is to raise the issue to national level.

“There must be awareness among researchers, funding bodies and HEI managements that we have the opportunity to influence costs. We want to change and to reduce them.”

Footnote: The inquiry team consists of researchers, funding bodies and negotiators from Stockholm University, the National Library of Sweden, Karolinska Institutet, Lund University, Södertörn University, the Swedish Research Council, and Forte (the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare). 

Text: Siv Engelmark
Photo: Magnus Johansson

1 comment

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  • Jonas Tegenfeldt

    Personally, I have difficulties being convinced of something that is presented as 100% beneficial. I would like to be aware of any difficulties or challenges that are expected with a reformed publication industry, e.g. along the lines of Plan S. Once I am aware, I would like to balance the pros and cons of the new way of publishing.

    There is no room for details here, but one example that is quite telling is that the goal is presented in terms of open publication, costs and transparency. These points address important problems with the current situation. However, it increases the risk of losing focus on the ultimately most important goal of producing high-quality communication of research to colleagues, to the public, to stake holder, to students in the present and in the future. My point is that we need to be careful to solve the identified problems with the current system without endangering the overall purpose of our publication activities.


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