Australia’s research institutions annually funnel an estimated $1 billion into the coffers of private academic publishers, a recent Australia Institute report reveals. 

The report suggests these funds could be more effectively allocated to bolster local research and education.

The study highlights the substantial sums - approximately $300 million yearly on journal subscriptions alone - paid to five leading publishing houses: Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature, and SAGE Publications. 

When additional fees and publication charges are considered, the total expenditure reaches $1 billion.

Dr Kristen Scicluna, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australia Institute, has criticised the prevailing academic publishing model. 

“Research is being hamstrung thanks to academic publishers exploiting taxpayers at every turn,” she said. 

“Publishers do not pay researchers or peer reviewers, charge excessive open access publication fees, and impose unjustifiable subscription and access fees on research institutions and individuals.”

In light of these findings, the report calls for substantial reforms to the research grants system, proposing strategies such as prioritising grants for open-access publication, experimenting with a lottery-based grant allocation system, and promoting open-science principles.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, has proposed measures aimed at reducing publishing and subscription fees. 

The report advocates for more extensive reforms to disrupt the high-profit academic publishing industry and ensure taxpayer money is invested directly into research and education.

“If we want to dismantle the academic publishing model and stop channelling public money to privately-owned publishing giants, we must reform our research grant system,” Dr Scicluna said. 

The full report is accessible here.