UC Terminates Elsevier Subscription in the Push for Open Access

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Minh Hua
Campus Beat Reporter

The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) sent out a press release on Thursday that the UC system will not be renewing its subscription with publisher Elsevier.

Although negotiations extended beyond the original Dec. 31, 2018 deadline, Elsevier was ultimately unwilling to meet UC’s key goals: ensuring universal open access to UC research and integrating open access article processing charges (APCs) and subscription fees into a single contract.

APCs are fees that subscription journals allow authors to pay to publish their articles as open access.

According to the press release, the university’s objective in the negotiations was “to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader.”

However, Elsevier’s terms went another direction, proposing to charge UC authors large publishing fees, over $10 million per year, on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription. The most recent proposal did not include any cap on the total amount UC faculty could end up paying in article publishing fees and would not have allowed the UC to fund article fees for authors who are unable to pay.

As reported by The Bottom Line, UC paid almost $11 million to Elsevier in journal subscription fees alone in 2018 and that Elsevier had a more than 40 percent profit margin on their revenues in 2012 and 2013, rivaling that of Apple, Google, or Amazon on those years.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” quoted Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate, in the press release.

According to UC Santa Barbara Library’s official statement to the community, the UC will still have direct access to most Elsevier articles published in 2018 or earlier because prior contracts with Elsevier included permanent access.

“E-books, databases, and open access content published by Elsevier are not affected,” said University Librarian Kristin Antelman, author of the official statement.

According to Antelman, UC’s negotiation goals were driven by a set of UC faculty-driven principles on scholarly communication. Consequently, open access publishing fulfills UC’s mission by transmitting knowledge more broadly and facilitating new discoveries.

Some notable rights and principles include “publishers shall make work by [UC] authors immediately available” and “[UC] authors shall have the right to make all of their data … from their published work publicly available.”

The push for open access publishing, which makes research freely and publicly available to everyone, isn’t new and has been fomenting for quite some time. Recognizing that high subscription prices are financially unsustainable and detrimental to the facilitation of research, universities across the world have been pushing for open access.

“The prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the U.S. — not the University of California, not Harvard, no institution — can afford to subscribe to them all,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley, and co-chair of UC’s negotiation team in the UC press release.

“Publishing our scholarship behind a paywall deprives people of the access to and benefits of publicly funded research,” said Mackie-Mason.

In light of the failed negotiations, Antelman stated that UC libraries have prepared the interlibrary loan office for increased demand, as well as a quick guide to alternative access, and will continue to monitor alternative sources of research in the upcoming months, ensuring that UC scholars and researchers are able to continue their research.


  1. Ah, yes. Scholarly communication means no access to current research – but you can read papers from the past. I am sure that 2018 research will still be cutting edge in 2025. Which leads me to only one question – why are you having such a difficult time understanding the decline in students? What parent in their right mind wants to pay a fortune to send their child to a 20th C. university?

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