The University of California this week announced a groundbreaking open access publishing agreement with leading academic publisher Springer Nature, the largest open access agreement in North America to date, and the first for Springer Nature in the U.S.

The four-year transformative agreement will allow for the open access publication of UC research in roughly 2,700 Springer Nature journals, and will give UC students, faculty, and researchers access to roughly 1,000 more Springer Nature journals than UC previously subscribed to. The deal also commits Springer Nature and UC to launching "an open science pilot project" in 2021 to “develop a transformative path" for the prestigious Nature journals, which, observers point out is a potentially huge development.

The largest public research university in the world, the UC deal is a major step forward for open access in the U.S., and comes nearly seven years after the UC Academic Senate, in 2013, endorsed a sweeping open access policy that vowed to make "all research articles authored by faculty at all 10 campuses of UC...available to the public at no charge."

Meanwhile, UC remains locked in a stalemate with the world's biggest academic publisher, Elsevier, unable to negotiate terms of a suitable transformative open access deal. UC ended its subscription agreement with Elsevier in February of 2019. In an update this week, UC officials said its negotiating team "continues to communicate with Elsevier" although progress remains "slow."

In addition to the global pandemic and changing global demands, this week’s deal with Springer Nature is likely to put additional pressure on Elsevier to strike a transformative open access agreement with UC. The UC system accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. academic publishing output. Springer Nature is the world’s second largest academic publisher.

“Springer Nature has shown real leadership in embracing the move toward open access,” said Ivy Anderson, associate executive director of the California Digital Library, and co-chair of UC’s publisher negotiation team, in a statement. “We are delighted at the prospect of working together to advance the free exchange of ideas and knowledge that will better the world.”

In its release, UC officials also said the deal proved that UC’s “model for transforming the scholarly publishing landscape is a reasonable, sustainable approach that can be piloted with publishers of all sizes, including the largest among them.”

In a statement, Frank Vrancken Peeters, chief executive of Springer Nature, said the groundbreaking deal “puts the U.S. firmly on the path" to open access and showed that "the transition to open access can be compatible with protecting library budgets while supporting research output growth.”