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Reconciling business interests and development needs – INASP Blog

Reconciling business interests and development needs


How can publishers ensure developing countries have access to the research they need?

A successful partnership

INASP’s partnerships with publishers have always been an essential part of our work to support access to research in Southern universities and research institutes. Through the two phases of the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) we’ve been able to make many thousands of e-journals available and in some cases e-books too. 2013 saw 4.5 million full-text downloads, with 65,000 full text items available in our partner countries – and this is of course on top of access achieved through Research4Life and other initiatives, as well as the wealth of resources now open access.

The world of research communications has changed significantly in the last few years. OA has advanced rapidly, making a significant volume of research freely available, and there have been some steady, but marked improvements in the research systems of many of our partner countries – with library consortia developing and universities beginning to invest more in research and postgraduate training. And at the same time, publishers have begun to look increasingly to African, Asian and Latin American countries to develop new business and reach new readers and authors.

Adapting to changing times

In 2013 INASP entered a new phase of funding, and a new programme – Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems (SRKS for short).

INASP’s priority remains to support our partners to achieve affordable, sustainable access to research literature. But we recognised that we needed to respond to this changing world.

Affordable and sustainable are the key words here. INASP believes strongly that if countries are to develop strong and vibrant research systems, then national arrangements – through consortia or national coordinating bodies – are vital to ensure that access extends beyond a small handful of universities.

We’re pleased that some publishers, keen to make sure research gets the widest audience, are able to provide free access to developing countries, and that many others are able to keep prices low. But we also appreciate that in the coming years some publishers will want to move from philanthropic access – via INASP and other schemes – towards direct, commercial relationships in developing countries. This is a positive development, as our partner countries are able to take progressively greater control over the purchasing of and management of e-resources, and come to rely less on organisations like INASP.

Moving at the right pace

But of course this will take time. Not all countries will be ready to move towards direct relationships, and those that are ready will still take time to adapt to new ways of working. Strong, independent relationships between publishers and countries will take time to develop. Moving too quickly could both damage access – at a critical time as the research base is being renewed and grown in many countries – and in the process damage the good relationships that many publishers enjoy with INASP’s partner countries.

INASP provides a service both to publishers and to partner countries – handling a great deal of the financial and administrative work has enabled publishers to offer discounted rates to partners, and enabled partners to purchase multiple packages through a single foreign currency payment.

It will take time for INASP’s partner countries to develop the systems and processes they’ll need in order to efficiently handle subscription and payment processes. Absorbing these additional tasks will introduce significant new demands. It may also create new work for publishers – university budgets are often unpredictable, the disbursement of funding can be slow, and is often complicated by regulatory requirements about transferring money overseas.

And while there have been investments in higher education and research in many countries, this doesn’t mean that more money is available for e-resources. Neglected for several decades, many university campuses and facilities need major upgrades. Important progress in widening access to HE has seen student numbers growing – but more students entering university campuses also means much greater pressure is being placed on already strained facilities. In Kenya, for example, enrolments to public universities have risen seven times faster than funding.

So what is INASP doing?

Responding to these changing needs, INASP is providing – over the next few years – a new suite of training and support to our partner countries.

  • Firstly, in addition to our existing training on managing and using e-resources, we’re now offering training in licensing and negotiations. Ultimately this support will be offered to all partner countries, but we’re rolling it out in phases. We’re beginning with those countries that need this support most – but of course this doesn’t mean that they’re ready to go direct just yet!
  • Secondly, we also recognise that for some publishers, offering subscriptions via INASP makes affordable access possible, so we will continue the service we’ve provided to date.
  • Thirdly, we’ll also be building Publishers for Development as the key platform for INASP, publishers and our partner countries to communicate – starting with this year’s conference  which takes place in Oxford in August. We hope that PfD will enable publishers and partner countries to improve their understanding of each other’s needs and situations.

Responsible engagement: what can publishers do?

We’ve put together some key principles to guide publishers wanting to ensure they engage responsibly with our partner countries, and to support genuinely sustainable and effective access.

  • Make an effort to understand the country context, which institutions are members of the consortium, and what their needs are. Try to look beyond the capital city – connectivity for each is often very different. You can do this through direct discussion with the consortium, but also by participating in Publishers for Development events.
  • Where a country wishes to negotiate as a consortium or purchasing club, respect this– don’t try to find alternative routes and don’t withdraw access before or during negotiations. It could damage reputations and relationships.
  • Don’t make sudden changes – if you wish to develop a direct relationship, communicate with the consortium or national coordinating body early to explain your plans, and give them time to prepare. A 3-5 year plan for engagement is likely to make for a more effective transition.
  • Think medium to long term on pricing and be realistic about your sales expectations. Budgets won’t have increased just because countries are able and willing to deal directly with publishers. Where increases are needed, make these affordable, incremental and predictable.

What makes a successful direct relationship?

The key elements that need to be in place for a successful relationship will in many cases mirror standard business practice. Publishers will need to be able to:

  • Provide consortia with a key contact for liaison – this helps build stability and develops the relationship
  • Handle negotiating, licensing and invoicing directly, or via an agent – the administration and bureaucracy associated with these activities are likely to be more time-consuming than those experienced in established markets.
  • Handle regular country correspondence – to support partners who may need additional advice or information about resources.
  • Trouble-shoot any access problems – broadband and technical constraints are more likely to cause problems, so FAQs and a help desk can really make a difference.
  • Provide usage statistics – to help institutions see where more needs to be done to promote resources to researchers

A couple of other elements could help to strengthen relationships further:

  • Helping librarians raise researchers’ awareness by offering promotional materials or running competitions
  • Offering training – helping librarians and researchers get the most out of resources can strengthen direct relationships

The end goal of course remains the same – achieving better, more sustainable access to research, which is vital if universities are able to produce skilled graduates, if researchers are to develop new knowledge, and if policy makers are in turn to have the evidence they need to make more informed decisions. We and our partners look forward to working with you to make this possible.

Over to you! We’d be glad to receive any comments on the issues and principles discussed here in the comments thread below.

Jon can be contacted @jonharle /

We look forward to seeing you at Publishers for Development in August to discuss these issues – and the development of research systems more broadly.

If you haven’t already booked, make sure you do so soon!

Jonathan Harle
Jonathan Harle is Director of Programmes at INASP.

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