Academic publishers urged to open access to digital content amid growing coronavirus disruption

UUK, Jisc, the Higher Education Copyright Negotiating and Advisory Comittee and the AoC were among the bodies who penned the joint statement

The UK higher education sector has called on academic publishers to open access to teaching and learning materials in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter calls for publishers, aggregators and vendors to lift paywalls, delay subscription price increases and drop restrictions which might inhibit sector-wide remote working models.

The letter has been signed by Universities UK (UUK), Jisc, the Higher Education Copyright Negotiating and Advisory Committee (CNAC), Association of Colleges (AoC), Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), Research Libraries UK (RLUK), and procurement bodies including the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC).

The letter thanked some “suppliers of digital content and software” who have offered to help institutions navigate the impact of COVID-19 on their teaching and research activities.

The letter specifically calls for publishers to make academic material and data pertinent to the fight against COVID-19 Open Access as a priority.

The sector has recommended publishers offer flexible renewal periods, lengthen payment due dates and develop “alternative methods of authentication” if traditional mechanisms are overloaded from increased traffic.


In related news: Jisc pledges support to UK education sector through a range of free resources


“We encourage all providers of digital content and software to follow this example to help our members reduce the impact on their communities and manage with reduced staff during this time of crisis,” the signatories wrote.

The letter’s other requests:

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  • Make any relevant content and data sets about COVID-19, Coronaviruses (regardless of species affected), vaccines, antiviral drugs, etc. currently behind subscription-only paywalls Open Access immediately to facilitate research, guide community public health response and accelerate the discovery of treatment options. The removal of technology that limits text and data mining is also requested in support of research.
  • Remove and waive all simultaneous, concurrent user or credit limits to an institution’s licensed digital content during this period when universities are going all online in order to allow research, discovery, and learning to proceed.
  • Remove, waive or pause triggers associated with evidence-based or demand-driven models in recognition that there will be a higher use of online content as courses are being delivered online.
  • Lift existing contractual Inter Library Loan restrictions or photocopying limits temporarily so that universities and colleges may assist their students to complete their studies.
  • Temporarily waive costs associated with the digitisation of second extracts under the CLA licence and engage with the CLA and other collective management organisations to increase extent limits to ensure teachers can provide students with the content they require.
  • Extend trial access periods to 90 days in the first instance to provide institutions and colleges with a monitored and managed route to access content they may require but have been unable to subscribe to previously.
  • Lift any restrictions on remote access so that teaching activities and research can continue online remotely, despite institutional closures.

Liam Earney, executive director of digital resources at Jisc, believes dropping limits to numbers of concurrent users will be a big help throughout the crisis. “We want to align with the international response and help form a globally consistent list of requests,” he said in an interview with ET.

“The letter is primarily focused on large providers, but we want to give guidance to all publishers and digital content providers on how they can best help,” added Earney.

“This is a fast-moving situation and we have seen many publishers announce their plans already this week. We sent the open letter to take the opportunity to thank them for their help and to signal to other publishers that there is an expectation that help is needed

“Universities have been facing a lack of certainty. We wanted to save individual institutions time and offer a coordinated approach to this challenge

Earney has received plenty of enquiries from members but he said that so far, no one seems to be in a state of panic. He also noted that universities are working round-the-clock to ensure they are able to swiftly communicate with their communities.

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