Monthly Archives: April 2012

Harvard Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing

[from Harvard Library News]
Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units
From: The Faculty Advisory Council
Date: April 17, 2012
RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership,  reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.

It is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive. Moreover, some providers bundle many journals as one subscription, with major, high-use journals bundled in with journals consulted far less frequently. Since the Library now must change its subscriptions and since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies (F).

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).

3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning (F).

4. Contact professional organizations to raise these issues (F).

5. Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations (F).

6. Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options (F).

7. Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals (L).

8. Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system, (L).

9. Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public (L).

See coverage:
Chronicle of Higher Education
Inside Higher Education
The Atlantic


Scholarships are also a sign of quality

[from and]

Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, on PhD scholarships:

Scholarships are also a sign of quality

What is a doctoral thesis all about?

April 20, 2011

“Obtaining a doctoral degree is a confirmation of the intellect”, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg once wrote, capturing the essence of a PhD: a doctoral thesis is something you spend years working on, deeply immersed in “your” subject, which requires you to muster a great deal of motivation and develop a lot of intellectual creativity; it also teaches you the fundamentals of scientific working. A PhD is rightly considered the most authentic of all academic qualifications. As you embark on a PhD, you are still anything but a “proper” scientist; it’s during the process itself that you become a “proper” scientist. In this sense, a PhD is “an apprenticeship in the lab”, and as such it is usually not paid like a “proper” job – and this is, by and large, the practice at all research institutions and universities.

There is no denying that only some doctoral students enjoy the benefit of a contract to fund their studies and others do their doctoral degree on a scholarship. The pressure of internationalisation has changed the PhD system in Germany in many respects in recent years. For instance, the number of students from other countries doing their PhD in Germany has doubled over the past ten years. Of the 5,300 doctoral students at Max Planck Institutes, half are from abroad. Scholarships are nothing unusual for the foreign PhD students – even at the elite institutions of the US and UK, such as Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford, young scientists generally do not do their PhD while in receipt of a full-time salary; they do it on a scholarship or a grant, with which they have to pay their tuition fees too (there are no tuition fees in Germany). The scholarships and grants made available under PhD programs are awarded in a strict selection process.

And the same is true for the 4,000 doctoral students each year in Germany who receive a scholarship from one of the twelve organisations for the promotion of young talent. What these organisations look for are not only “bright minds” who have performed exceptionally well at school and university, they also look for social engagement. Less than 20 per cent of applicants make it into the sponsorship programs. They are each rightly proud of their scholarship, given that it singles them out as highly-motivated, qualified and socially involved in areas outside their own field of study. In this respect, the accusation that the world of PhD funding is a “two-tier society” is simply off the mark – Germany’s entire system of sponsorship for the intellectually gifted is based on scholarships!

Of the 3,300 doctoral students at the Max Planck Society who are in receipt of a scholarship, 2,200 of them receive a Max Planck scholarship and the remaining third receive their scholarships from one of the organisations for the promotion of young talent, or from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, DAAD, the EU (Marie Curie Fellowship), etc. The scholarship allowances differ only marginally: they are all between 1,000 and 1,365 euros plus benefits. In other words, scholarships are the instruments of choice in scientific funding – not only nationally, but also internationally; doing away with them would be absolutely absurd and would damage the whole system of young scientist sponsorship.

The PhDnet, which represents the interests of doctoral students in the Max Planck Society, has in recent years predominantly campaigned for doctoral students at the Max Planck Institutes to receive similar levels of net income regardless of financing model. In negotiations with its funding providers, the Max Planck Society has therefore campaigned to increase its scholarship rates by being allowed to add health insurance benefits, an attractive child allowance and additional financial contributions for families. That we managed to achieve these improvements is also regarded as a success by our scholarship holders.

Many of our foreign doctoral students consider a scholarship from the Max Planck Society a special distinction that enables them to work on their dissertation freely and independently in an internationally stimulating research environment. Our young scientists come to us from 100 different countries around the globe, attracted by the renown of the Max Planck Society and the outstanding working conditions they find in our Institutes. They have the opportunity to complete a crucial stage of their career in a creative world in which the interdisciplinary and intercultural views and mindsets of bright minds really have an effect.

And that brings us back to the very essence of PhDs: the intensive support of young scientists is above all intellectual and not financial in nature. More than ten years ago, the Max Planck Society, in cooperation with the universities, got a successful model of internationally-oriented graduate education off the ground in Germany in the form of the International Max Planck Research Schools: in addition to the Max Planck Institutes and the German partner universities, foreign universities and research institutions also contribute to the study programs. The doctoral students value the very good support they receive, as well as the training in soft skills. After all – and this is something we must recognise – only some of them will stay in academia. That’s no bad thing: the most successful form of knowledge transfer is the training of outstandingly qualified young people who can go on to play leading roles not just in science, but in business and society too.

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