Jisc, journal data, Freedom of Information

Jisc works on behalf of universities and colleges, and with them, to improve their performance and competitiveness. At present, a major challenge facing universities is the transition from subscription journals to open access (OA). Jisc has done a huge amount to limit the costs and improve the efficiency of the subscription model, for example through its negotiations with publishers and services such as KB+. Similar efforts are now underway with respect to the cost and administration of APCs for OA in journals, especially hybrid journals, which pose particular challenges.

It is widely accepted that the more information is available to suppliers and customers in a market, the better it functions, so Jisc supports as much transparency as possible, for example through helping universities share APC data in consistent ways that enable analysis. In line with the express preferences of our customers, Jisc also resists the inclusion in subscription deals of non-disclosure clauses that would otherwise prevent universities comparing the prices they pay for journals. It is perhaps not widely known that Jisc is usually successful here; non-disclosure clauses are rare in UK journal deals.

However, the relative absence of non-disclosure clauses is perhaps not as widely known as it might be. Even where non-disclosure clauses exist, the UK Freedom of Information Act over-rides them, as demonstrated by data obtained and shared earlier this year by both Tim Gowers and, more recently, by Stuart Lawson. However, while Stuart does work for Jisc, his FoI requests were not submitted to institutions in that capacity, but as a private individual. We’re sorry for the understandable confusion to which this has led. Jisc would not submit FoI requests to universities in this way, partly because we have no need to (we already have much of the data through our role as negotiators), but mainly because it is not the way we work with universities.

The work taking most of Stuart’s time is collection and analysis of APC data from universities, and making that collection as easy as possible for them. As a first step, we have developed a spreadsheet template that has been endorsed by the Charity Open Access Fund as meeting their APC reporting requirements. The next step is to get that specification agreed by funders and universities through the CASRAI process, and implemented by systems such as repositories (eg, EPrints) and CRIS (eg Pure). The sooner these data can be easily shared, understood and analysed, the sooner journals’ customers – often libraries, and often negotiating via Jisc – will be able to make more informed decisions. Jisc and universities working together stand the best chance of making OA, especially hybrid OA, work.

By Neil Jacobs

JISC Programme Director, Digital Infrastructure (Information Environment)

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