Economic impact of proposed Open Access policy detailed in new report

NewsPress Release

The economic impact of the potential new Open Access (OA) policy from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is detailed in a new report published today.

The report, produced by FTI Consulting for the Publishers Association, assesses the impact of the policy on the UK’s research ecosystem and raises a number of issues of concern for the UK research sector.

FTI Consulting’s report indicates that the UKRI policy could mean an increase in expenditure for universities in the UK in the order of £130-140million a year. It also shows a £2bn loss to UK-based journals over the period 2022 to 2027 and an associated loss of economic output of £3.2bn.

The report also suggests the proposed policy will have a detrimental effect on UK research competitiveness and the UK’s attractiveness as a global hub for research.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The UKRI policy may mean an increase in expenditure for research intensive universities in the UK of around £130-140million a year, if a significant number of journals were to transition to ‘Fully OA’ in response to the UKRI Policy. In this scenario, the ‘Top 20’ most research-intensive universities in the UK would need to cover approximately half of the anticipated increase in publication costs.
  • If the proposed UKRI policy is pursued, the estimated loss to UK-based journals would be in the order of £292 million per year or approximately £2 billion in the period from 2022 to 2027. For some, monograph publishing will become unsustainable. Some smaller publishers may be put out of business. The associated loss of economic output would be in the order of £3.2 billion.
  • A significant proportion of the loss to UK-based journals would represent the loss of export revenue, with foreign entities standing to gain the most financially from the UK transition. Indeed, there would be a substantial ‘first-mover’ disadvantage for the UK, as a research-intensive nation, to transition at a faster rate than the rest of the world.
  • Moreover, UK libraries would still need to subscribe to content that is not currently available on an OA-basis. The cost saving associated with certain journals or monographs transitioning to ‘Fully OA’ would be modest, in the order of a few million pounds per year. 
  • Importantly, the UKRI policy would inhibit scholars’ ability to conduct research in their respective disciplines in an effective and accurate way, with an associated cost to research productivity. Indeed, the policy could dilute the benefits that could be expected from OA to the published outputs of academic research. Ultimately, UK research would risk becoming less impactful and less well-regarded, with a knock-on effect on the UK’s standing as a global research hub.
  • The UK’s academic publishing sector is currently world-leading and generates nearly 60% more value for the UK economy than it earns in profits. The report finds that the UKRI policy will affect the ability of all types of academic publishers – commercial organisations, learned societies and university presses alike – to contribute to the UK’s research ecosystem.

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, commented:

“Publishers want to make Open Access a reality and have done a huge amount to contribute to the Open Science agenda. However, this report raises serious questions for everyone in the UK research sector to consider. UKRI’s proposed policy requires detailed scrutiny as the potential economic impact is significant and severe. We hope that this report makes a valuable contribution to the body of evidence informing this important policy.”