U of T Libraries and Karger Publishers entered a “transformative open access agreement” on February 25, which would make more U of T articles available for free to people across the world. The agreement went into effect on January 1, 2020, and is Karger Publishers’ first open-access agreement in Canada. Karger Publishers oversees over 100 journals in health and medicine.

Open access, in the context of academic research, entails making published material free to access for readers. Through this one-year provisional agreement, U of T-affiliated authors will be able to make their publications through Karger Publishers’ e-journals open access and not have to pay article processing charges (APCs). Certain open-access journals charge APCs, which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, once an article has been accepted.

According to Larry Alford, the Chief Librarian at U of T, the deal came at no additional cost to the university.

“U of T sees this as a good deal for them, because it doesn’t cost them more money,” said Leslie Chan, a UTSC professor and advocate for open-access research, in an interview with The Varsity. “In theory, more U of T articles will become openly accessible to anybody around the world.”

But Chan did not praise the agreement on all fronts, noting that it hinders the open-access movement. “I don’t think it’s a good deal, because I don’t think it’s a fair or equitable deal,” said Chan.

“There’s no transparency, so the publisher can play games whatever way they want,” said Chan. “The negotiating power is all with the publishers, not with the buyers.”

According to Chan, when universities enter open-access agreements that do not publicly disclose the cost, they are agreeing to a system that disadvantages other universities. He said that Karger Publishers could leverage its agreement with U of T, and form deals with other universities, who would be unable to compare the cost or terms of agreement with other institutions. Chan likened U of T’s agreement with Karger Publishers to purchasing a vehicle from a car dealership, but not being able to disclose to anyone how much it was purchased for.

Alford did not respond to a question regarding the nature of U of T’s deal with Karger Publishers, such as whether a non-disclosure agreement was drawn. However, he noted that U of T and peer Canadian universities in the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) partner to negotiate access to journals from legacy publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley- Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis.

“This partnership enables Canadian universities to leverage our collective purchasing power to reduce the cost of access to research,” wrote Alford in a statement to The Varsity. “We will continue to work closely with CRKN to negotiate access to journal packages.”

— With files from Alex Law