Dutch universities square off with Elsevier

09 Jul 2015 | News
With open access talks failing to break new ground, the Netherlands’ university association calls for researchers to consider giving up their posts with Elsevier journals

Elsevier is resisting Dutch universities’ demands to permit all papers published by their academics to be made open access – so called Gold Access - after the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) asked all scientists whether they were willing to give up editor roles on journals owned by the publisher.

It is not clear how many researchers have obliged. However, in response to the proposed boycott, Amsterdam-based Elsevier, the world’s largest science journal publisher, sent emails to Dutch scientists this week outlining its position.

The email says, “The challenge is that, apart from the Netherlands and the UK, no other country aims for Gold Open Access. […] Therefore, while a transition to Open Access is desirable, it needs to be managed carefully and funded properly as it is not cost-free for the Netherlands.”

While Elsevier talks are stuck, VSNU has to date reached outline agreements with three other publishers, Springer, Wiley and Sage.

Discontent with the publisher business model has bubbled to the surface in the last few years, with researchers complaining they take their work and sell it back to them. The contents of most scientific journals lie behind publishers’ paywalls and universities pay annual subscription fees for access.

In open access publishing, the author, not the reader, pays the publishing costs. Apart from being cheaper, proponents say open access articles generate a bigger audience.

The Dutch government last year said that 60 per cent of research articles authored by Dutch scientists must be open access by 2019, and 100 per cent by 2024.

VSNU opened talks with large publishers last year to move toward this gold open access model.

Like the Netherlands, the UK government is steering towards a similar open access goal. A 2012 report argued there is a powerful moral case for publicly-funded research to be freely available.

In January, Gerard Meijer, president of Radboud University and one of the negotiators facing Elsevier, said he was determined to stay the course, in a statement to The Times Higher Education.

“We aren’t going to accept it any longer. I think from the fact that Elsevier is not willing to move much, they simply still don’t believe [it’s happening]. Well, they got us wrong,” he said.

* This article was amended on 10 July 2015 to clarify language regarding the proposed Elsevier boycott. University figures have been asked by VSNU whether they'd consider boycotting, which will only happen if parties in talks can't reach an agreement.

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