Jisc Off-Setting Workshops: Helping Universities Get the Most from the Deals

Background and Context:

Over the past four months (31 March, 31 May, and 25 July), Jisc has scheduled and run 3 separate workshops covering the scope of the 6 publisher deals which we negotiated on behalf of HEI across the UK: Sage, Springer, IOP, Wiley, Taylor&Francis, and RSC. In terms of these deals, the agreements were all implemented as pilots and ongoing evaluation has always been regarded as essential by Jisc as part its approach to the negotiations; as such, these workshops were designed to help feed into the overall consideration of what might be needed as evaluations went forward.

The workshops were split between the London and Manchester offices, and offered a chance to hear from 9 representative institutions who have engaged in one or more of the schemes, offering a chance for other institutions to see best practice, as well as better understand the deals and how to implement them at an institutional level. These discounts were meant to help manage Article Processing Charges (APCs). However, each of the six were significantly different from one another that there was confusion across the sector, leading some institutions to ignore the deals altogether and others to become increasingly frustrated with the management of the schemes.

Connected to the Total Cost of Ownership project (TCO), we initially interviewed 14 institutions to get a sense of what the various structures of the deals entailed, as well as to develop an idea of where particular pain points existed when institutions attempted to take advantage of the deals and to make researchers aware of them in the first place. These seminal interviews formed the basis of the workshop agenda.

Although nearly all the institutions interviewed said that there is an obvious financial incentive to pursue the schemes, with the exception of some institutions whose researchers cannot even pay a partial APC, they also expressed concern over the amount of time engaging with each of the deals might take; even the ones generally deemed to be “easy to use” or “easy to communicate” by some institutions also meant increased staff time either before or after the off-set was in place. It was clear that some of the voucher schemes could allow for better monitoring of APC spend, as well as overall publications; however, because each of the schemes was so different to administer, there was concern that teams could not necessarily and adequately keep track of what authors were doing and which papers should receive a discount. That said, some institutions also indicated that “something is better than nothing”, and so a straightforward pragmatic approach might work best in the short term, with the idea in mind that these deals are not the end-game, but a transitional tool to Open Access. Publishers, institutions, and Jisc can all work better together in order to help avoid confusion and errors in processing. All institutions interviewed said that what they would like to see are offers which were much more simplified and easy to administer.

There was also the concern over engaging with researchers regarding the discounts. Many institutions we spoke with said that they did not actively promote the deals, because they worried that academics would perceive that as being told where to publish. In addition, other institutions found that they had little extra time to promote the schemes, whereas others almost ignored them altogether because the institution had a preference for Green OA, so only a very few people apply for APC funding anyway.

In the end, the workshops attempted to address and deal with the problems around the deals, which have mostly to do with different ways that institutions work, acknowledging that it would be impossible to find one model to suit everyone if institutions weren’t willing to shift their own current and potentially idiosyncratic practices.

Additional connections:

A connected incentive to have the workshops was the call for Jisc to offer and promote an event whereby institutions and publishers, as well as representatives from Jisc, could get together and talk about the discounts in a friendly and constructive forum outside of any formal negotiations. In addition to that need, these events also gave publishers an opportunity to present their deals and receive immediate feedback on what was working and what needed improvement. At no point, however, were the workshops meant to be a means of applying pressure on the publishers for what Jisc may perceive as the best route to offer for any kind of off-set. To help keep that balance, we also included representatives from The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and The Publishers’ Association, both of whom offered a detailed presentation on the contexts of Open Access and how off-sets can be a noteworthy and strategic means for transitioning to a fair and transparent OA market.

Preliminary and emergent findings:

Some of the initial findings from the workshop corresponded with what we had learned in those preliminary interviews with institutions:

  • The complexity of the various off-setting models is a problem
  • If the institution’s publication record is relatively small, there is little payoff for working to embed any of the schemes (which reflects the general displeasure with the administrative burden of most of the deals)
  • There is a lack of uniform practices among institutions and within the same institution
  • There can be a lengthy time lag between when a publisher is contacted with a problem and its rectification

In other instances, we also heard some new things, which benefitted both Jisc, as well as the publishers who were present:

  • Confidentiality agreements with subscription deals make it difficult to take advantage of the off-sets
  • It is practically impossible to automate the process because of multiple funders’ and national policies
  • Vouchers and codes are too fiddly
  • There still remains a great deal of confusion around Open Access in general, before institutions can even approach the idea of off-setting arrangements
  • Institutions understand that there cannot be “one size fits all”, but there needs to be some standardisation with the processes so that the deals are easier to understand, communicate about, and implement

Aside from the fact that most institutions would like Jisc to emphasise that a dashboard from each of the publishers would be incredibly useful, we also learned that institutions would like us to:

  • Help library OA and research teams see what the authors see during their submission process
  • Standardise ways that the deals are expressed and structured so that institutions can calculate value and potential savings
  • Help institutions to share their experiences more easily
  • Create a Jisc dashboard illustrating institutional uptake of the deals
  • Create a consortium payment system to help share unused vouchers

Liminal lessons learned (and gratitude):

At the end of three workshops, we feel that the events were well received and allowed institutions to meet each other in the context of talking about OA alongside off-sets, as well as voice a number of ideas and concerns to publishers. The publishers involved did a thorough job of showcasing their offers, but they also worked as collaborators in the events, asking pointed questions in order to get clarification about what was being said and taking the time to allow the conversations to become a true give and take. We all got to see a range of workflows indicating how institutions across the board are working to streamline their processes as much as possible. To that end, I need to extend a note of thanks and gratitude to everyone who participated in the workshops, particularly the presenters (in order of workshop presentation):

  • Dr Audrey McCulloch, ALPSP
  • Finlay Jones, University of Exeter
  • Yvonne Buddon, University of Warwick
  • Helen J. Dobson, University of Manchester
  • Helen Ellis and Mark Purvis, IOP Publishing
  • Dan Dyer, RSC Publishing
  • Emma House, Publishers’ Association
  • Dominic Tate, University of Edinburgh
  • Eileen Vernon, University of Glasgow
  • Catherine Sharp and Patrycja Barczynska, UCL
  • Eva-Marie Sheer, Wiley Publishing
  • Victoria Gardner and Carolyn Kirby, Taylor&Francis Publishing
  • Suzanne Atkins, University of Birmingham
  • Helen Webb and Ellie Craig, University of Sussex
  • James Bisset, University of Durham
  • Veronika Spinka, Springer Publishing, and
  • James Pawley and David Ross, Sage Publishing

What’s next?:

As we move forward, we will be putting together additional resources and synthesis materials to help institutions understand and potentially engage with the schemes, as well assist Jisc Collections in their on-going negotiations. As was stated in “Principles for Offset Agreements”,

The systems implemented so far differ in their design, but share a common objective of meeting the demand from the UK academic community. They also ensure that publishers do not receive double income both through subscriptions revenue and revenue from APCs for the same journals, and that they should address, to some extent, the financial burden that a transition to open access imposes on UK higher education institutions.

As such, that is, indeed a tall order, but again, these agreements remain pilots, which are being monitored and evaluated as part Jisc’s approach to the negotiations, and these workshops have been an important part of the process toward ensuring that publishers, HEI and Jisc are engaged in the ongoing conversations around what is needed and what paths are required to get us there.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *